I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Acts of Hope

Peter Sirr
The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century, by John Burnside, Profile Books, 508 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-1781255612 A prolific poet, fiction writer and memoirist, John Burnside began this book with a large ambition: to write a personal history of twentieth century poetry. If what emerged is, by his own admission, “digressive and idiosyncratic”, it’s not because the ambition was reduced but because the project evolved into something less academically analytical and more urgent and personal. There are essays on a host of poets in multiple languages but the reflections on poetry are linked to personal narratives, placed in the poet’s own life and often growing out of physical journeys. Underlying it all is an argument for the importance of poetry, nothing less than “the central pillar of any nurturing culture”. In an essay on Spanish poetry he remembers an observation by Stephen Spender which he has carried around for many years: Poets and poetry have played a considerable part in the Spanish Republic, because to so many people the struggle of the Republicans has seemed a struggle for the conditions without which the writing and reading of poetry are almost impossible in modern society. For Burnside “the struggle of any society … is a struggle for the conditions in which the writing and reading of poetry are not only possible, but also prized”. That might seem like a utopian ambition but placing such an emphasis on the centrality of poetry allows Burnside to give himself a wider reach than a purely academic reflection would allow. This is no wide-eyed idealism either: Burnside’s belief in and commitment to the possibility of poetry is hard-headed. it’s all about close attention and hard-won craft, but it begins with hope: “Hope is of the essence for all poets. We might even say that to make a poem at all is an act of hope.” It’s a good place to start in what is at its core a defence of poetry, and a refusal to allow it to be consigned to the edges of culture: I would still make the claim that poetry has a significant role in our communal life … … all poetry is political, because it insists on the centrality of the imagination in daily life and on the necessity of rejecting the misuse of language practised by politicians, advertisers and the sorts of people who think that by calling…



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