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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Lost Worlds

Maria Johnston
If All the World and Love Were Young, by Stephen Sexton, Penguin Books, 115 pp, £9.99, ISBN: 978-0141 99002 6 If all the world and love were young And truth in every shepherd’s tongue … Walter Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” It’s impossible not to linger on the title of this debut collection by Belfast poet Stephen Sexton and impossible not to have it run irresistibly into the next line of the poem by Walter Raleigh from which it is taken (“and truth in every shepherd’s tongue”) as that end-word “young” calls out to its sensuous rhyming partner “tongue” to satisfy the couplet. What must strike the reader from the outset then, is the way that word “truth” ghosts and worries the collection from the start. What is the relation between poetry and truth as the poet as game-player seeks to persuade and move the reader through the deployment of elaborate sonic, rhythmic and metaphorical devices? How might poetry, combining such deliberate strategies, reveal what is hidden to us through layers of truth, half-truth and confabulation? And how does authentic feeling fare in a work of elegy such as this (for the poet’s mother, who died of cancer in 2012) as love and loss, grief and disbelief, are manipulated into art? Described by Sexton in an article for The Irish Times as “fairly conventional pastoral poems which always concern an unreal landscape: an imaginary one, a digital one”, questions to do with reality and representation are amplified from the beginning. Such questions are not easy ones just as this is not, despite its seemingly accessible facade, an easy collection to read. As each of the poems in this book-length elegy takes its title from a level of the Nintendo video-game Super Mario World the reader finds herself existing in split-screen; negotiating the shifting lines of the poems themselves and their bottomless hinterland of echoes and allusions while also replaying the fabricated levels of the video-game itself with their secret exits, warp pipes, moving platforms, rotating blocks and always the “enemies” attempting to throw Mario off course if not wipe him out entirely. As with so much of the best poetry, this comprises a profoundly dislocating and destabilising lived experience, in the process of which the reader is changed, challenged and brought up short not least because of the hurtling proliferation of voices and versions of the self throughout. By the…

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