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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Ulster Polyphony

Gerald Dawe
A North Light: Twenty-five years in a Municipal Art Gallery, by John Hewitt (eds Frank Ferguson and Kathryn White), Four Courts Press, 272 pp, €24.95, ISBN: 978-1846823640 The differing critical perspectives on how “the North” of Ireland is known, described and/or defined – the Six Counties, the North, Northern Ireland, Ulster, the north of Ireland, the Province, and so on – used to once bother people much more than it does today. The notion of “Northern Poetry” and “Northern Poets” that sits inside these geographical and cultural parameters has been tracked at great length by several leading critics and proponents since the publication thirty-five years ago of Frank Ormsby’s anthology, Poets from the North of Ireland (1979). In effect, the history of poetry from that part of Ireland has, in the main, been dated from the mid-1960s, with much less public and indeed scholarly attention being given, until fairly recently, to the earlier generations, such as (shall we call them?) the Hewitt Generation of the 1930s and 40s. Many of these writers – Robert Greacen, Roy McFadden, George Buchanan, George Reavey, Charles Donnelly – lived fascinating lives, sometimes based in Ireland, sometimes elsewhere – in London, or Coventry, New York or Paris. All of them inhabited a rich and diverse literary world. They travelled; they set up art galleries, poetry presses and magazines. They carried with them the distinctive accents of this place, inflected with the nuances and expectations, assumptions and experiences of their lives elsewhere. Their poems and journalism, their professional “careers” and political interests make a great story out of the literary mainstreams of mid-twentieth century cosmopolitan culture, a culture from which they were often too rigidly interpreted as being outsiders. Far from it. In John Hewitt’s A North Light we have a valuable and timely insight into some of their lives and livelihoods, from Ireland of the 1930s to that of the mid-1950s and his departure from Belfast to take up a post as art director of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. Hewitt was in effect leaving the official North, a region ‑ to quote his memorable phrase, “forever shuffling, cap in hand, to the Ministries in Whitehall, begging for alms” – a practice that was “partly an expression of the ruling clique’s inferiority complex”. This book, edited with meticulous care by Frank Ferguson and Kathryn White, clearly shows Hewitt himself as a much-travelled, well-read, enthusiastic art lover…

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