Tuesday 16 January 2018

Beloved poems we learned in school days

It's not often that a book of poetry is republished due to popular demand, but such has been the case with Soundings, Augustine Martin's official Leaving Cert anthology, first issued in 1969 but out of print since the mid 1990s.

However, over the last couple of years, nostalgists for their schooldays have been lamenting its unavailability (you'll find scores of queries, comments and reminiscences on the web), leading to last week's launch party for the re-issue in Doheny and Nesbitt's.

UCD's Tony Roche made a touching and funny speech about the anthology and about his colleague Gus, whose untimely death 15 years ago at the age of 59 shocked everyone who knew him -- not least the thousands of former students who'd learned their love of literature from him.

In truth, though, there are better anthologies of verse. I retain a special fondness for Palgrave's Golden Treasury, AP Wavell's Other Men's Flowers and Sean McMahon's Rich and Rare, while such collections as Poem for The Day and The Nation's Favourite Poems are steady sellers among those who seek familiarity and consolation from verse.

Indeed, there's something determinedly old-fashioned about Soundings.

The only poet still alive when Gus Martin compiled the book was Thomas Kinsella (no Larkin, Hughes, Heaney or Montague), the only woman poet featured is Emily Dickinson, while other omissions were undoubtedly imposed by consideration of the anthology's intended audience -- as Tony Roche observed, head nuns in convent schools might not have favoured the inclusion of Marvell's To His Coy Mistress.

Still, there's much to enjoy here and the compiler's questions ("explorations") at the end of each poem raise many helpful points and offer real insights.

And for those strange souls who want to relive their schooldays, the book looks exactly as it did then, smudged cover and all, its only departure from the original being an affectionate foreword by Joseph O'Connor, who sat his Leaving Cert when Soundings was the set text.

Irish Independent

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