Sally Connolly is that rare thing, a critic of contemporary poetry who is at once sharp, funny, and judicious. Whether weighing up the merits—or demerits—of winners of the T. S. Eliot Prize, or pondering the nature of Irish-Englishness, or parsing the work of recent Poets Laureate, Connolly proves herself an expert and entertaining guide to what is happening in poetry on both sides of the Atlantic.
I’m a big fan of Sally Connolly’s Grief & Meter: Elegies for Poets After Auden.
In her new book, she takes her title from perhaps Auden’s best-known poem and, twinning him early on with Eliot, tries to keep the old transatlantic route open in both directions. As a kind of mid-Atlantic type myself, I like this. I don’t think Connolly lives on an isolated ranch, but she does live in Houston. Her autobiographical chapter about being Irish-English (not Anglo-Irish) is both delightful and necessary for understanding the smart perspective she brings to the poetry she discusses here.
Sally Connolly opens up the realities of space and place that certain writers today inhabit in ink, but which need the direction of such a brilliant critic to help us enter, wander and wonder within.
Sally Connolly has a sharp ear for how poetry sounds, for where it originates and where it ends up, and she’s in a good position to say, not just thanks to her knowledge of things Irish and Irish English and British English and American, but thanks to her knowledge about the guts of poems: past and present, early-career and deeply canonical, out-there and close to the heart, outspoken and close to the vest, get attention in Connolly’s personal, thoughtful, pellucid language. The Anglophone world needs more poetry critics so careful, so thoughtful, so able to speak their minds.
We have a terribly bad habit of treating literature as a national phenomenon, and putting poets into little boxes labeled “English,” or “Irish,” or “American.” Sally Connolly could choose any one of these boxes herself—she’s London Irish, now rooted in Texas by way of Harvard and points south. But she chooses to be put in no box at all. Few are better positioned to examine the trans-Atlantic poetics of such figures as Auden, Heaney, or Yeats; few are so well placed to examine poets and the cultures that support them. And no one else writes so lucidly while doing so.