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.

Home Reviews LITERATURE IS ALWAYS NOW

LITERATURE IS ALWAYS NOW

Gerald Dawe
Selected Prose, by Derek Mahon, Gallery Press, 280 pp, €15.95, ISBN 978-185235528-9 It seems that in comparison to Yeats, contemporary Irish poets have been less given to prose writing. Yet when one looks at the record things are actually quite different. Seamus Heaney, for instance, has published several volumes of essays, a selection of which is gathered in Finders Keepers, while his Stepping Stones: Interviews with Dennis O’Driscoll is, in effect, an autobiography in disguise. Mention of which brings other prose memoirs to mind ‑ from Patrick Kavanagh’s wonderful Self-Portrait, Anthony Cronin’s Dead as Doornails, George Buchanan’s Morning Papers and Green Seacoast, to the autobiographical writing of Austin Clarke, Cecil Day Lewis, John Montague, Richard Murphy, Robert Greacen and Eavan Boland. Derek Mahon’s Selected Prose, which has superseded his previous volume of such writing, Journalism (Gallery Press 1996), is as close to an undisclosed autobiography as the reader is likely to get. In fact Mahon says as much in an author’s note: The present selection is not about writing only; photography, art and travel are here too. It could even be read as random fragments of autobiography. As it took shape I realized it was starting to look like a book of memoirs. The new volume (of which the current writer is one of the two dedicatees) is Mahon unplugged, meditating on all things that have mattered to him over the stretch of his writing life to date. The volume, under the discrete narrative of individual essays and reviews, merges into a composite picture of the poet himself and the world he imagines, as much as the one in which he lives, or has lived in: “we salvage what we can”, as he remarks in the author’s note and throughout Selected Prose there is a clear sense of tracking what he sees as cultural decline, things “on the way out”. This somewhat fatalistic tone masks a deeper countering feeling for the achievement of writing to withstand the trivialising pressures of the celebrity culture and the cheery self-importance of the publicity racket. But for every questionable cultural practice of today Mahon’s dismissive view is strengthened by significant figures of critical value whose influence is literally ahistorical. In Mahon’s book literature is always now ‑ Swift, Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bowen rub shoulders in several more extended readings with Louis MacNeice, Aidan Higgins, Samuel Beckett and Patrick MacDonogh. In “Wind and Limb” on MacDonogh (1902-1961) he remarks: …obsessed with youth and novelty, we sometimes patronize…

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