The poems in The Gifts of Fortune, Peter McDonald’s seventh book of poems, cover a spectrum of personal history. They go to Belfast, Oxford, and further afield; in time they visit the poet’s pasts, his now, his possible futures. Autobiographical detail abounds: McDonald’s experiences (as a working-class boy in Belfast, who dreams of leaving, and a middle-aged Oxford don, who dreams of going back) are filtered through a deep instinct for poetic tradition. At the heart of the book are two sequences: one, ‘Mud’, in which family, professional, and literary histories are combined in strictly formal, but personally unguarded, reflections on poetry, class, and privilege; and another, ‘Blindness’, where a series of ten line units test poetic form to (and beyond) breaking-point, in a meditation on family and suffering, disappointment and hope. Other poems return to themes of wealth and poverty, love and loss, and the alienation and puzzlement of age. Throughout the book, form is ghosted by the formless, hovering just beyond the frame; and Fortune vies with Fate, quite another force.
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