Letters of Louis MacNeice

Nick Laird writes:

Louis MacNeice’s influence is everywhere in contemporary poetry, in its forms and in its forms of engagement. Certain strands in his work – questions of identity, nationality, responsibility – became, with the advent of the Troubles, critically important to a celebrated generation of Northern Irish poets, poets like Derek Mahon, Michael Longley and Muldoon. These writers were led to him by content but stayed for the style. Auden or Eliot’s influence can be overwhelming for a writer, their tone is so settled, their territory staked out so thoroughly. But a novice poet can wander around perfectly happily for years in MacNeice’s enormous and baggy Collected Poems and emerge with a decent grounding in poetic practice. It would be difficult to overstate his current significance. In the last 20 years there has been a burgeoning of academic attention – conferences, papers, critical studies – culminating in the appearance of his letters, weighing in at a substantial 768 pages, edited by Jonathan Allison of the University of Kentucky, who notes, a little ominously, that ‘this volume represents only a fraction of the extant letters … and there is certainly enough material for a further volume.’

(LRB 3 March 2011)