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Derek Mahon was born in Belfast in 1941 and studied French literature at Trinity College Dublin and at the Sorbonne. He lived for many years in London, working variously as a reviewer, television adapter of literary texts for British television and poetry editor of the New Statesman. More recently he has lived in Dublin and Kinsale. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished and influential of contemporary Irish poets. He has influenced not only a younger generation of British and Irish poets but has also been one of the influences on a new school of Scandinavian poets centred in Oslo and Gothenburg. He has been described as one of the most musical of poets now writing in English. Derek Mahon received the 2007 David Cohen Prize, for recognition of a lifetime’s achievement in literature.

We were very saddened to learn on October 2, 2020 of Derek Mahon’s passing. Announcing his death that day, Mahon’s publisher Gallery Press called him a “master poet” and a “pure artist”. We couldn’t agree more, remembering fondly his visit to Toronto to take part in the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings and festivities. Some of the wonderful and comprehensive tributes to the man and his literary accomplishments can be found herehere and here.

Life on Earth

The Gallery Press
2009 Shortlist
Ireland

Judges’ Citation

Formal grace, uncluttered diction, and sprightliness of movement lend Derek Mahon’s new poems a musicality and memorability which is intensified by their visionary gaze and their poignant yearning for unspoiled and unsoiled places: ‘blue skies, /clear water, scattered light’.

Formal grace, uncluttered diction, and sprightliness of movement lend Derek Mahon’s new poems a musicality and memorability which is intensified by their visionary gaze and their poignant yearning for unspoiled and unsoiled places: ‘blue skies, /clear water, scattered light’. His light-filled work celebrates the sun’s life-sustaining powers; yet he also fears the heat of the sun in the context of global warming: ‘Sea levels rising annually, /glaciers sliding fast, /species extinct …’ Mahon is drawn to the lives, worlds and work of other artists; a vivid bio-poem, retracing Coleridge’s life, and an atmospheric poem evoking the post-war Belfast of the novelist Brian Moore are set alongside elegant versions of Ovid [the desolate ‘Ariadne on Naxos’] and Ibsen [the haunting and unsettling ‘The Lady from the Sea’]. Visual art features prominently too: a sequence of ‘Art Notes’ re-creates the paintings of Edward Hopper, Howard Hodgkin, Renÿ Magritte and others with meticulously-crafted mastery. An outstanding collection from one of Ireland’s most acclaimed poets.