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John Montague

b. 1929

some pure thing, / Some living source, half-imagined and half-real, / Pulses in the fictive water that I feel. - John Montague, 'The Water Carrier'

A Response to Omagh

John Montague


A Grafted Tongue

John Montague


The Water Carrier

John Montague


The Same Gesture

John Montague

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About John Montague

John Montague (b.1929, New York), the author of many books of poetry, stories, memoirs and essays, has been called "the greatest Irish poet of his generation" by Derek Mahon. Born to Irish parents in America, he returned to Ireland at the age of four to be raised by aunts, and was educated at a school where the folksong and Irish poetry expert Sean O'Boyle was an influential teacher. Montague has since travelled the world as poet, teacher and journalist, keeping always a literary and emotional anchor in Ireland.

It is no surprise, then, that Ireland is a recurrent theme in his work. In some poems - 'Like Dolmens Round my Childhood, the Old People', 'The Trout' or 'The Water Carrier', for example - we hear of remembered childhood experience; others deal with the history and politics of the country, from the effect of enforced language change in the nineteenth century in 'A Grafted Tongue' to the recent violence that informs 'A Response to Omagh'.

Other themes that animate the poems in this reading include water, nature, death and love - the last so important a theme to Montague that his book The Love Poems is devoted to the subject. 'The Same Gesture', in this reading, shows love in its centrality to human life - and is introduced wryly by the poet as "a unisex love poem." There are lighter moments too, such as 'The Family Piano' being destroyed with a hammer, and an attempt to rectify a gap in the canon in 'Landing', which provides a rare poem about aeroplanes arriving.

While there are few inherited forms in the poems Montague chooses to read here, all draw on the resources of rhyme, metre and assonance. 'A Courtyard in Winter', for example, underlines the tragedy of a suicide through the repeated refrain in which "snow curls in on the cold wind". In recognition of the heightened music of the language, he reads with an appropriate sonority; it is easy, on listening to him read, to agree with the opinion of the Malahat Review that "John Montague's voice will always be raised in the ranks of the great poets of our literature."

In 2010 Montague was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in France, for services to poetry. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne, as well as University College, Dublin, his own alma mater.

His recording was made on 1 October 2008 and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Speech Lessons, The Gallery Press, 2011

A Ball of Fire: Collected Stories, Liberties Press 2008

The Pear is Ripe: A Memoir, Liberties Press 2007

Drunken Sailor, Gallery Press 2004.

Company, Duckworth Press 2001

Selected Poems, Penguin 2000

Carnac: a translation of work by the French poet...

Smashing the Piano, Gallery Press 1999

The Love Present, Merlin Publishing 1997


1977 Marten Toonder Award 1977 Marten Toonder Award

1980 Guggenheim Fellowship 1980 Guggenheim Fellowship

1995 Ireland Funds Literary Award 1995 Ireland Funds Literary Award


John Montague

John Montague Reading from his Poems

1Like Dolmens Round my Childhood, the Old People

2Woodtown Manor

3The Trout

4All Legendary Obstacles

5That Room

6The Same Gesture

7Omagh Hospital

8The Water Carrier

9A Bright Day

10A Grafted Tongue


12Courtyard in Winter

13No Music

14Last of the House

15Herbert Street Revisited

16Grave Song

17Last Journey

18A Response to Omagh


20There are Days

20The Family Piano



Books by John Montague