The widely published, Belfast-born poet and critic ranges across styles and subjects in this sixth volume of verse, but he comes back to one salient fact: his exile in Galway from the war-torn North. Being —two-cultured,— he worries if he's —two-faced,— if, as he suggests in the title poem, his —True North is always shifting— and he will forever have —a hunger in the head— for that other half of himself. Death pervades his local portraits: of an unpopular drunk (—Curse—), of a quiet female violinist (—Clio—), of his father (—Requiem—) and of poet George MacBeth (—Language Classes—), from whom Johnston derives his aesthetic of —ragged syntax and eccentric verbs.— His simple verses—his drinking songs, his feminine- rhyming ditties—observe routine things: a girl asleep, young lovers, seafaring, flowers. But his love poems cloy, with treacly sentiment and greeting-card vocabulary. At his best, Johnston seeks a sort of self-negation and aspires to a Joycean level of exile and silence. Too often, though, the professional Irishman gets the better of him and plays itself out in unmemorable verse.
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