The flowering of poetry from Northern Ireland in the last half-century continues to attract the attention of readers and critics. That a strong poetic movement coincided with a historic period of political agitation—a kind of civil war—raises questions that are just as interesting as they are ultimately perplexing. By general agreement the outstanding figure in this movement is Ireland’s Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. But Heaney has not been a solitary star, as I have pointed out more than once in these pages. His contemporaries Derek Mahon, James Simmons, and Michael Longley are well worth reading, as are the younger Northern Irish poets Mebdh McGuckian and Ciarán Carson. There is no uniformity among these poets. Mahon brings an Augustan technique and a keen satirical edge to his verse while Simmons’s talents including singing and song-writing. His “Ballad of Claudy”—less nuanced than Heaney’s poems about...


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