John Redmond

John Redmond’s latest collection of poems, MUDe, is published by Carcanet.

Perish the thought: Derek Mahon

John Redmond, 8 February 2001

In his undergraduate days at Trinity College Dublin in the early 1960s, Derek Mahon cast a spell over his contemporaries, as he would cast a spell over his early readers. He had wit, taste and a literary knowledge beyond his years; his distinctiveness as a Belfast poet was crucially accentuated by his study of French literature, which Irish poets had been slow to explore. Fellow students who...

Send no postcards, take no pictures

John Redmond, 21 May 1998

Kenneth Koch ends his fine and amusing collection, One Train, with a sequence called ‘On Aesthetics’, which, amongst many other things, takes in the aesthetics of Paul Valéry, of jazz, of moss, of air and of being the youngest of four sisters. In tone, the sequence is something like a cross between Auden’s ‘Academic Graffiti’ and the Private Eye scribbling of E.J. Thribb. Often, the line-breaks are deliberately clunking, as in ‘Aesthetics of the Outdoor Opera’:‘

War against the Grown-Ups

John Redmond, 21 August 1997

A recent newspaper story told of a young man who went to hospital, seeking attention for stomach pains. Expecting to find some sort of cyst, the doctors opened him up. What they removed instead was a seven-inch-long foetus with the teeth of a 16-year-old. This improbable entity was the man’s twin, ‘absorbed’ long ago in the womb and still surviving off his brother’s body. When something so unusual happens, we are often immediately conscious of its literary co-ordinates, and this story falls squarely into the macabre area of John Burnside’s work. It is queerly echoed, for instance, by the conclusion of his prose-poem ‘Aphasia in Childhood’, which deals, in part, with exploring woods as a boy: ‘I was sure, if I dug a few inches deeper, I would find a being which resembled me, in every way, except that it would be white and etiolated, like a finger of bindweed growing under stone.’


John Redmond, 28 November 1996

Born at the end of the Seventies and in decline at the beginning of the Eighties, Martianism, as a movement in British poetry, was shortlived, and as a descriptive term, misleading. Largely the creation of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid, the movement was characterised by, and remembered for, unusual similes and exotic descriptions. Its name derived from the title poem of Raine’s second collection, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979), in which the Martian, rather like Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy, memorably misconstrues what he sees on our planet – interpreting caxtons, for instance, as ‘mechanical birds’ and noting how ‘Rain is when the earth is television.’ Raine’s poem was not plausible science-fiction, indeed it made no effort to be so – the alien uses earth-words to describe earth-things. His Martian was a distracting, out-of-this-world prop, a pretext for an aesthetic which was resolutely in this world.’

Accidents of Priority

John Redmond, 22 August 1996

Famous poems, like faces, are a particularly memorable kind of introduction to the person they conceal. Like other kinds of introduction, they are often what we remember a person for, or what we think of when we hear their name. Think of Larkin, for example, and what do your see? A head like a pale, bespectacled bean and then maybe an image or two from the better-known poems, the shabby lodger, say, of ‘Mr Bleaney’, or the stony couple of ‘An Arundel Tomb’. Such reflections, it might be objected, are very superficial, but as Wilde reminds us, it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.

Two Poems

John Redmond, 21 March 1996

Before and After

After murder, the sleep of murder, its slipways closed, its map unclimbable. But, before that, as a car-door flicks

into last year’s Festival, it’s early yet. After a lock clicks, the car relaxes, reflections flicker from shop to shop

and most of what he is hangs from his hand. After a balloon, the weight of a child unbalances him and something draws

against a...

Fading Out

John Redmond, 2 November 1995

The West of Ireland is a good place in which to hide. Fast-moving columns of sun and rain cause landmarks to appear and disappear; the roads have potholes which could hide the many vagrant horses, donkeys and sheep; and young boys hang from the signposts till they are wildly twisted about. To find your way is pleasantly difficult – but even more pleasant is the difficulty of being found. Among other splendid things,‘the West’ is the land of transplanted urban dream kingdoms, a paradise for poets who do not wish to be disturbed. Michael Viney’s documentary, The Corner of the Eye, opens with a slow sweep across this landscape, a picture of distances fringed with purple and a few tawny cows nosing through the foreground, then switches to a little white cottage in the midst of it all, and then to the face of the dwelling’s occupant, and the film’s subject, Michael Longley. Sitting in the blue light from a window, Longley discusses – in a manner which the film’s opening sequence seeks to imitate – the process of exploring unfamiliar places. He remembers how, as a native of Belfast, he came to Carrigskeewaun in Mayo at a time when the Troubles were starting to break out in Northern Ireland. What first mesmerised him about the West was the horizon, the sense of unlimited space, the lines of hills. Then, as the years passed, he became more fascinated by the middle distance, by walls and trees and roads until, finally, his love affair with the landscape ended with him on his hands and knees looking ‘into the faces of small flowers’.’

In a recent radio programme, Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, two of the most prominent of the New Generation poets, retraced the journey undertaken by Auden and MacNeice in Letters From Iceland – a sign of the renewed interest which younger poets are showing in the poetry of the Thirties. Although Yeats and Eliot were publishing some of their greatest poems during the Thirties, it was Auden who created the style which most of his contemporaries sought to imitate, and it is Auden, more than Yeats or Eliot, who is influencing younger poets today.

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