Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Domain of Risk

Michael Hind takes the measure of the the late Michael Donaghy's newly released Collected Poems:
It remains an abiding concern whether the Collected is the product of a post-mortem ruckus between academics and editors, for example Larkin, or the fidgety self-arranging of a still-living poet, as with Derek Mahon’s ongoing reshuffles of his work through a series of Collected editions (in this respect, he is the closest we have to an Irish Walt Whitman). All of this is informed by death, of course; very few poets are more valuable alive than dead, and very few want to be, if we take seriously the idea that a poet is seeking to find some words that will hitch a ride on the collective unconscious into the future (Plath’s “indefatigable hoof-taps” come to mind). Although he did organise some of his earlier work for republication, Michael Donaghy never got the chance to arrange his own Collected edition or to cull parts of his work for a Selected Poems (in some respects an even more radically demanding type of book for a poet to produce), simply because he died too young (in all senses). Ten years after his death, Picador has produced a paperback edition of his Collected Poems after a five-year wait, decorated with a sumptuous black-and-gold representation of what looks like either a seismograph or the graph on a lie detector; either way, it is a significant choice: the colours suggest a casket, the image an announcement that the time has arrived for canonical weighing and measuring. We are back in the domain of risk.

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