The Poetry of Derek Mahon

The poems on this course by Derek Mahon have moved me in a way to admire both his poetry as well as himself. He is able to describe beautiful scenes, and give impressions of places with a charm, which gives the scene both beauty and depth. He is able to detach himself from the moment and talk freely of it without bias, despite the urge to when dealing with volatile topics. In doing so he gives us, the reader, more freedom to make our own judgments and interpretations. Mahon is also a formalist, he uses predefined verse and rhythm whilst being able to fit his scene and story into a difficult and limited format, and within it he uses many techniques – sibilance, assonance, alliteration and symmetry are examples of his dedication to the craft of poetry.

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These features can be seen very easily in the poem, “The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush”. He tells us of the calm before the tourist rush of a seemingly simple and unimaginative small town, but gives detail of life for the inhabitants and their own thoughts. We sense a tone of calmness, and safety in the small town during the early spring when the coldness of winter remains, “Before the first visitor comes the spring Softening the sharp air of the coast”. It is a gentle and “almost hospitable”. Mahon gives the otherwise sleepy town a certain charm describing its street, including the sleeping wolfhound and its emptiness. He is able to put himself in another person’s shoes and describe that person’s desire – the proprietor of the restaurant is “dreaming of home”.

He uses this method of story telling in “After the Titanic”, where he writes from Bruce Ismay’s point of view. Once president of the White Star Line, and a male survivor of the Titanic, now a reclusive cocaine addict, he is still shown in a sympathetic light, a sign of Mahon’s empathy for humanity, which is continued in other poems. He is continually tortured by the same nature that initially caused the terrible incident, leaving “broken toys and hatboxes” at his door.

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