“Heaney is a Wordsworth man and I’m a Coleridge man.”

A short but interesting interview, and potted biography, of Belfast-born poet Derek Mahon in the Guardian Review today, a Selected Poems of was recently published. He’s dismissive of the myth of The Group which gathered with Philip Hobsbaum, as noted here on Heaney Day, “even to say that it was not important is to give it too much importance”. And, he’s also with Heaney on politics and poetry:

There was a time when people – much more English people than Irish – would ask, ‘Why don’t these Ulster poets come out more explicitly and say what they are for?’ But there is all this ambiguity. That is poetry. It is the other thing that is the other thing.”

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  • Pete Baker

    I should perhaps have highlighted another quote from the article:

    “When growing up, my bunch of friends would have thought of ourselves as anti-unionist because we were anti-establishment. We would have been vaguely all-Ireland republican socialists. But then, when theory turned into practice, we had to decide where we stood and I never did resolve it for myself. Marching for civil rights was terrific, but bombs and killing people? I never put a name to my own position and I still can’t, which suits me fine.

  • tra g

    sounds like a case of no convictions to be courageous about rather than no courage of your convictions.

    sometimes you’re better going with the flow for the old quiet life, eh Pete?

  • Pete Baker


    While you may believe that it requires courage to plant bombs and to kill people, I’d suggest that Derek Mahon is actually referring to the contradiction between killing people, in whatever way, while at the same time campaigning for civil rights.

    It’s a common misconception that the two are not in some way contradictory.. or that to keep to the civil rights convictions does not, in contradiction to your comment, require courage in itself.

  • tra g

    rather lazy of you to claim that I may believe in planting bombs and killing people just because I found the vagueness of Derek’s political views to be less than inspiring.

    Derek’s smug declaration proclaiming his self-satifaction at ‘never putting his name to his own position’ infers that he’s too busy picking the splinters out of his posterior.

    Sorry if I don’t fit the pigeonhole of the gun-toting warmonger that your kneejerk reaction suggests.

    Now i’ll sign off and head back to the interface to see if I can pick off any late-night stragglers…..

  • Pete Baker

    Now, now tra.. you raised the question of Derek Mahon’s convictions without specifying what you saw the apparent contradiction to be, I was only clarifying what I saw as Derek Mahon’s position on that issue.

    If you disagree with my assessment of the contradiction, between campaigning for civil rights and killing (or attempting to kill) people, that I think he has identified then, by all means, do so.

  • pith

    He registers opposition to political violence. After that, does it really matter if he can’t put a name to his own position and does it really matter what that position is?