Image by The Gallery Press
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.
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
John Montague Reading from his Poems
1Like Dolmens Round my Childhood, the Old People
4All Legendary Obstacles
6The Same Gesture
8The Water Carrier
9A Bright Day
10A Grafted Tongue
12Courtyard in Winter
14Last of the House
15Herbert Street Revisited
18A Response to Omagh
20There are Days
20The Family Piano
The writer and broadcaster Clive James introduces a few of his favourite poems in the Poetry Archive.