“the past falls open anywhere”

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… and that is what it did this afternoon for this blogger. Of course, so does the future. And the present. Especially the present. Many impressions, opinions, ideas, nascent reactions, conversations, observations.

Today Sean O’Brien delivered his TS Eliot prize lecture, on the subject of Michael Donaghy, Black Ice and Rain and City of God.

The text will be available tomorrow on the Poetry Book Society’s website; until I’ve had a chance to read it I don’t want to say much about what he said. I took notes but there were too many things flying around in my brain to process it very efficiently at the time, and more has happened since then – in the form of conversations, observations and the posts written earlier today by fellow bloggers in attendance. So I’ll sleep on it before saying anything in detail about the substance of his remarks!

(My notes, however, are written up more patchily, or notily, than this piece on my own blog, Baroque in Hackney.)

I’ll just say this. With the two big Donaghy Collecteds – prose and poetry – due out in March, what O’Brien is doing with this lecture seems to me significant. He’s heralding in the next era, he’s laying the foundation stone for the corpus of serious critical work about Donaghy’s poetry – as distinct from the memoirs, grief-stricken anecdotage and tributes already written about him (among which I count my own two offerings, both written in the months or even weeks after his death in 2004). (Joshua Mehigan also wrote a fine piece for the New Criterion in the USA in about 2005, but that also seems different in kind from what O’Brien delivered today.)

This is not a review or critique of what O’Brien has to say. I’ll leave that, as I say, for after I’ve read the lecture. But one thing he did was to say – and here it will be better to check with the text – that Black Ice and Rain is one of the finest, or did he say the finest, poem in English of the past fifty years. He explicitly takes on the implicit limits imposed by comparison with Browning, and lists several ways in which he thinks this poem opens out the capacities of the modern dramatic monologue – or narrative poem. I remember that much, and it’s a big thing for him to do.

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One Response to ““the past falls open anywhere””

  1. Jack Underwood Says:

    Hello, I was at the Donaghy lecture (I am PhD student studying Donaghy’s poems) but I was nowhere near a computer yesterday so wasn’t able to download the text. Any chance you have it downloaded somewhere? Cheers, jx

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