John Montague

Poet John Montague was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929.

Appropriately, for perhaps the first Northern Irish poet to make an international impact, John Montague was actually born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, before being brought to live on the family’s farm in Co Tyrone.

Montague lived for some time in Paris, where he was a friend of Samuel Beckett, and in the United States: his work, unusually for an Northern Irish poet, is strongly influenced by American and continental modernism.

Montague’s collections of poetry include: Forms of Exile (1958), Poisoned Lands (1961), A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1971) The Rough Field (1972) A Slow Dance (1975), The Great Cloak (1978), The Dead Kingdom (1984), Mount Eagle (1989), The Love Poems (1992), Time in Armagh (1993), and Smashing the Piano (1999). His Collected Poems appeared in 1995.

A critic and fiction writer as well as a poet, Montague has also taught in universities in Ireland, the United States, and France. He was the inaugural holder of the Ireland Chair of Poetry in 1998, and is a member of Aosdana, the Irish state’s ‘council’ of celebrated writers, artists and musicians.  The writer lives in Co Cork and has been painted by Edward maguire and Louis le Brocquy.

A New Siege

Lines of history
lines of power
the long sweep
of the Bogside
under the walls
up to Creggan
the black muzzle
of Roaring Meg
staring dead on
the new Cathedral
the jackal shapes
of James’s army
watching the city
stiffen in siege
SMALL SHOT HATH
POURED LIKE HAIL
THE GREAT GUNS
SHAKEN OUR WALLS
a spectral garrison
no children left
sick from eating
horseflesh, vermin
curs fattened on
the slain Irish
still flaunting
the bloody flag
of ’No Surrender’
GOD HAS MADE US
AN IRON PILLAR
AND BRAZEN WALLS
AGAINST THIS LAND.

Copyright John Montague & Gallery Press

In this poem, written in 1970 and dedicated to Bernadette Devlin, Montague parallels the siege of Derry in 1690 with events in the Bogside.

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