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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

A Montague Retrospective

In 1975 Wake Forest University Press began its Irish poetry program by co-publishing John Montague’s A Slow Dance with the Dolmen PressMontague was one of our foundational poets, and we were lucky to have worked with him for more than forty years. In honor of the posthumous publication of A Spell to Bless the Silence, we offer this retrospective look at Montague’s books published in North America by WFU Press.


1975 – A Slow Dance

A Slow Dance … is both a deep immersion in the poet’s search to identify himself with his land and people and an effort to liberate himself at the same time.”
–M.L. Rosenthal,
The New York Times


Montague | The Great Cloak

1978 – The Great Cloak

“Montague … has moved beyond the momentary stasis of that poem’s quiet edge.… I can feel in the lines themselves a hornet swarm, a muscular tension, the deep angers and unresolved conflicts which also constitute one of Montague’s strengths as a poet.”
–Paul Mariani,
Parnassus


1979 – The Rough Field*

The Rough Field [is Montague’s] most remarkable book and one of the most interesting statements made in this century about Ireland past and present. It is a unity, a movement and sequence of poems as strong and steady as the mountain stream descending on the lowlands to define a world, taking with it the past and present of that one small backward place, but a place over-burdened with history.”
–Benedict Kiely,
The Hollins Critic

*WFU Press first published this book in its 3rd edition, but has since updated it to add a preface by the author and a section of notes. The most recent is the 6th edition, published in 2005, which has further revised and expanded notes.

1983 – Selected Poems 

“It is because his poems find love hard—whether it is the love of Ireland or Individuals—that they do find love.… In Mr. Montague’s fine, firm poems, such loving force is always made real by being felt as threatened by the angers of Ireland and of this Irishman.”
–Christopher Rick, New York Times Book Review

1984 – The Dead Kingdom

“…The Dead Kingdom also reveals a blooming poetic imagination—one that begins with the past, then breaks our hearts.”
–Robert Gingher,
Greensboro News & Record


Montague | Mount Eagle1989 – Mount Eagle

“His optimism is never forced, always aware of the ‘gloomy procession of casualties’; but, like the salmon swimming upstream in the early poems in the book, his aim is to spawn affirmation. Montague has always organized his collections with great care, poems echoing and developing each other, and this is no exception. It reveals a considerable poet at the height of his powers continuing to plumb ‘the lost world of the primordial depths.’”
–Conor Kelly,
In Dublin

1995 – Collected Poems 

“John Montague’s poetry is notable for a number of reasons, not the least for his ability to convey political and personal crisis with deep feeling, clarity and elegance. He has not only produced a confessional poetry of the highest order, but he is also the writer who has articulated best the tragedy, and the context, of the Troubles. At the same time, Montague has never lost sight of the importance of craft in poetry and in the process has produced a body of work as beautiful as it is illuminating and moving. For sheer breadth of vision and writing skill, this book is perhaps the greatest volume of collected poems to emerge since Yeats.”
–Eamonn Wall, The Washington and Lee University Review

2001 – Smashing the Piano

Smashing the Piano has a newly celebratory ability to convey ‘luxuriantly / sustained ambivalence’ … Return and circling-back have long been the dominant themes of Montague’s work, but in this volume securer, less precarious reconciliations are achieved than ever before.… [Montague is] only too aware that violence and suffering pervade private and public lives. But his collection’s brave and superbly executed design is to face down pessimism and hold out hope.”
–Michael O’Neill,
Times Literary Supplement

Montague | Drunken Sailor paper

2005 – Drunken Sailor

“The good, rich music, the internal rhymes, the strong regional flavor, both distant and immediate, won my heart. The book is, quite simply, magnificent.”
–Peter Walpole, The Virginia Quarterly


2012 – Speech Lessons

“Montague’s poems are lyrical and sweet; they are marked with clarity of vision that preserves for readers the poet’s experience of childhood as well as the details of Ireland’s past and present as they rub up against each other and, sometimes, collide.”
–Kelly Matthews,
New Hibernia Review


2018 – A Spell to Bless the Silence: Selected Poems

“A towering and charismatic presence in Irish poetry for over half a century, John Montague was one of the key voices of the post-Yeatsean era. He was our first great poet of Ulster memory, Ulster family, exile, yearning, and conflict. This shrewd and generous selection from his life’s work will give a new generation of readers a real sense of his fabulous voice and his enduring importance. A poet lives most truly in his work and the maestro Montague lives passionately in these pages.”
–Thomas McCarthy

A Spell to Bless the Silence showcases Montague’s incredible and important poetic oeuvre—fourteen volumes written over more than fifty years—and even includes poems previously published only in Ireland and the UK. The selection was made by Montague himself along with his wife, Elizabeth Wassell. Montague is also the author of short stories and essays, and has edited major anthologies. We are grateful that Montague’s legacy lives on in these important literary contributions. 


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