Ireland is associated in the popular imagination, or at least in that dwindling portion of the popular imagination that concerns itself with literary matters, with poetry. Seamus Heaney (“Seamus Famous,” as Clive James once dubbed him) is one of the best known writers of our time, while W. B. Yeats has only a few serious competitors—Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot chief among them—for the title of best English-language poet of the modern period. Heaney’s contemporaries, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, and Eavan Boland are, if not household names, major figures in contemporary poetry. All this despite the fact that Ireland, as Wes Davis points out in his introduction to An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry, “has roughly the population of Tennessee in a land area the size of South Carolina.” That’s a helpful reminder, given the enormous quantity and high quality of literature produced, in two languages, by this...


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