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Poem of the week: The Natural and Social Science by Michael Donaghy


This elegant poem by the late Irish-American writer showcases his talent for free-range anecdote, smart satire and humour

Michael Donaghys Collected Poems, reissued by Picador, reminds us that the writer was more than one kind of poet. His poetry is often noted for its formal craftsmanship, but Donaghy could also be considered a verse-raconteur, a master of the apparently casual, free-range anecdote. This weeks poem, The Natural and Social Sciences, has a conversational brevity and slant reminiscent of early Paul Muldoon. Its an elegant example of Donaghys work in the oral tradition that is also painfully funny.

In separate but thematically connected anecdotes, the speaker visits three Irish locations. Straidkilly, Tubbercurry and Gweedore are in counties Antrim, Sligo and Donegal, respectively real places, with real names. To the outsider, the place names might sound parodic or cod Irish like Dylan Thomass Llareggub, the fictional Welsh fishing village of Under Milk Wood. One suspects that Donaghy, a tactful satirist, was challenging his readers ability to distinguish reality from stereotype.

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