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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Michael Donaghy

It is five years since Bronx-born British-based poet Michael Donaghy died, suddenly, at the age of 50. As I've written elsewhere (on several occasions) Donaghy is the fourth most influential American poet to come and live and work in Britain, in the 20th century, in the same group of four as Eliot, Pound, Plath.

This is not to say he revolutionised poetry like the first two, or emotionalised it like the third, just listed - but his immense stylistic influence on an entire generation of mainstream lyric British (and particularly English and Scottish) poets is ongoing, and can be clearly traced in the work of poets like Don Paterson and John Stammers. Donaghy was unusually charismatic, funny, and talkative, and also smart. He loved musicality in verse, and he loved ideas in tune with that music.

His work is no surprise to anyone who knows the work of James Merrill, or John Hollander, or Daryl Hine - it is Yankee Wit writ large, and guided by Donne and Auden. What makes Donaghy perhaps distinct is that he seems to be the least known major poet of the last 30 years - at least in America. Picador has just published two handsome and incredibly useful, welcome volumes, Collected Poems, and The Shape of the Dance.

They will firmly place Michael Donaghy in the canon in the UK for the next 50 years, or more. He has been well and honourably served by his friends and admirers. It is an unfortunate aspect of the excitement around his work that it is sometimes read as a slap at anything experimental. However, the battle, in Britain, over discursive lyricism and Olsonesque intertextuality needs to be somewhat leavened by tolerance. This is not the post to review these works, but I do recommed them here.
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