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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Sharp words from elsewhere

Thomas McCarthy
The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004, by Harry Clifton. Bloodaxe Books, 144 pp, £12, ISBN: 978-1852249717 It is now generally accepted that Harry Clifton, recent Ireland Professor of Poetry, is a poet of the first rank. His critical writing and statements from the academic podium have been trenchant, unequivocal, and sometimes ill-advised. It’s been clear for many years that he has no conventional wish to make friends, but he is determined to influence people, especially those who intend to add their sod of turf to the damp wall that is Irish poetry. His career has not been without honours – he is both a Patrick Kavanagh Award and Irish Times/Poetry Now winner – but he has never received the sustained critical attention that his work invites. He deserves to be much more widely known, not just as an Irish poet but as a first rate practitioner in the broad English language. Internationally, his talent should have attracted some fair wind by now, some career event that would place him on a platform with Paul Muldoon or Eavan Boland. Such an event is awaited by all of us, of course; and this feeling of waiting to be called forward must be felt acutely by four or five excellent poets of Clifton’s generation. That call doesn’t come too often. But Harry Clifton has been marked from the beginning, I think, for some as yet undisclosed epiphany of fame. Clifton returned to Ireland ten years ago after having lived that peripatetic life so well known from the biographies of Joyce or Montague, Beckett or O’Grady. Exile affected both his work and his temperament, feeding his verse with exceptional material and fuelling his mind with a missionary impatience at the Ireland, and the Irish poets, he had left behind. Yet from the beginning his poetry had a tone that was more world-weary than worldly-wise. It’s as if his poetry always knew more than he did – the sure sign of a good writer. Like a cranky uncle who’s spent too long in the tropics, he threw insults at every poet-cousin he read, apart from one or two glorious favourites. Yet, to tell others what to write, or even how to write, is a daft ambition: if poets don’t strike gold for themselves then they should move on to something else. The work in this new Selected is full of the most glittering nuggets ever exposed in an…



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