Montague, John (Patrick) 1929-

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MONTAGUE, John (Patrick) 1929-

PERSONAL: Born February 28, 1929, in Brooklyn, NY; son of James Terence and Mary (Carney) Montague; married Madeleine de Brauer, October 18, 1956 (divorced, 1972); married Evelyn Robson, 1973; children: (second marriage) Oonogh, Silylle (daughters). Education: University College, Dublin, B.A., 1949, M.A., 1953; Yale University, postgraduate studies, 1953-54; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1955.

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, Ltd., Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London, WC2B 5HA, England.

CAREER: Author, poet, editor, and translator. Standard (newspaper), Dublin, Ireland, film critic, 1949-52; Bord Failte (Irish tourist board), Dublin, executive, 1956-59; Irish Times, Paris correspondent, 1961-64; lecturer in poetry, University College, University of Dublin, 1972-88. Visiting lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, 1964 and 1965, University of Dublin, 1967 and 1968, and University of Vincennes, 1968. Writer-in-residence, State University of New York, Albany, 1990.

MEMBER: Irish Academy of Letters.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship, 1953-54; May Morton Memorial Award for poetry, 1960; Arts Council of Northern Ireland grant, 1970; Irish American Cultural Institute prize, 1976; Marten Toonder Award, 1977; Alice Hunt Bartlett Memorial Award, 1979; Guggenheim fellowship, 1979; Hughs Irish Fiction award, 1988; Irish American Foundation award, 1995; named the first Ireland Professor of Poetry, 1998, by the Arts Councils of Dublin and Belfast, Queen's University Belfast, Trinity College, Dublin, and University College Dublin.


Forms of Exile (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1958.

The Old People (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1960.

Poisoned Lands and Other Poems, MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1961, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1963, revised edition, Humanities, 1977.

(With Thomas Kinsella and Richard Murphy) Three Irish Poets (pamphlet), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1961.

(Editor, with Thomas Kinsella; also contributor) The Dolmen Miscellany of Irish Writing, Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1962.

Death of a Chieftain and Other Stories, MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1964, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1968.

Old Mythologies: A Poem, privately printed, c. 1965.

All Legendary Obstacles (poetry), Oxford University Press (London, England), 1966.

Patriotic Suite (poetry), Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1966.

(Editor, with Liam Miller) A Tribute to Austin Clarke on His Seventieth Birthday, 9 May 1966, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1966.

A Chosen Light (poetry), MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1967, Swallow Press (Chicago, IL), 1969.

Home Again, Festival Publications (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1967.

Hymn to the New Omagh Road (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1968.

The Bread God: A Lecture, with Illustrations in Verse (pamphlet), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1968.

(With Seamus Heaney) The Northern Muse (recording), Claddagh, 1968.

A New Siege (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1969.

(With John Hewitt) The Planter and the Gael, Arts Council of Northern Ireland (Belfast), 1970.

Tides (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1970, Swallow Press (Chicago, IL), 1971.

The Rough Field (poetry), Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1971, Swallow Press (Chicago, IL), 1972, revised edition, Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1989.

(Editor and translator) The Faber Book of Irish Verse, Faber (London, England), 1972, published as The Book of Irish Verse, Macmillan (London, England), 1974.

Small Secrets (poetry), Poem-of-the-Month Club, 1972.

(Contributor) Irish Poets in English, edited by Sean Lucy, Mercier Press, 1972.

(Translator) A Fair House: Versions of Irish Poetry, Cuala Press, 1973.

The Cave of Night (poetry), Golden Stone Press (County Cork, Ireland), 1974.

(Contributor) Time Was Away: The World of Louis MacNeice, edited by Terence Brown and Alec Reid, Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1974.

A Slow Dance (poetry), Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1975.

O'Riada's Farewell (poetry), Golden Stone Press (County Cork, Ireland), 1975.

(Translator, with wife, Evelyn Robson) Andre Frenaud, November, Golden Stone Press (County Cork, Ireland), 1977.

The Great Cloak (poetry), Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1978. The Leap (poetry), Deerfield Press (Old Deerfield, MA), 1979.

Selected Poems, Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1982.

The Dead Kingdom (poetry), Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1984.

The Lost Notebook, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1987.

(Editor and author of introduction) Bitter Harvest: An Anthology of Contemporary Irish Verse, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989

The Figure in the Cave and Other Essays, edited by Antoinette Quinn, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1989.

New Selected Poems, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 1989.

Mount Eagle, Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1989.

Born in Brooklyn: John Montague's America, edited by David Lampe, White Pine Press (Fredonia, NY), 1991.

An Occasion of Sin: Stories, edited by Barry Callaghan and David Lampe, White Pine Press (Fredonia, NY), 1992.

Time in Armagh (poems), Gallery Press (Old Castle, Ireland), 1993.

About Love (poems), Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdaleon-Hudson, NY), 1993.

(Translator, with C. K. Williams) Ponge, Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1994.

Collected Poems, Gallery Press (Old Castle, Ireland), 1996.

Chain Letter, Poetry Ireland, 1997.

A Love Present & Other Stories, Irish American Book, 1997.

The Book of Irish Verse: Irish Poetry from the Sixth Century to the Present, Bristol Park Books, 1998.

(Translator) Eugene Guillevic, Carnac, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1999.

Death of a Chieftain and Other Stories, Interlink, 1999.

Smashing the Piano, Gallery Books (Oldcastle, Ireland), 1999.

Company: A Chosen Life (memoir), Duckworth (London, England), 2001.

Also author of dramatization, "The Rough Field," produced in London, 1973. Contributor to journals and newspapers.

SIDELIGHTS: Although John Montague was born in Brooklyn, New York, he has lived most of his life in Ireland. His parents, strict Catholics, were born and raised in Northern Ireland. In 1920 Montague's father, James Terence Montague, came to the United States seeking a better life for himself and his family. Eight years later, he sent for his wife, Mary, and their two sons. A year later, John was born. Mary Montague had a difficult time adjusting to her new home in America, and since times were very hard during this period in the United States, the three boys were sent to Northern Ireland to live with relatives. While his older brothers were raised by their maternal grandmother, Montague lived with his two maiden aunts on the family farm in rural Garvaghey.

It has been suggested that it was this early and traumatic separation from his parents and his brothers, coupled with a boyhood in rural Northern Ireland, that has most influenced Montague's writing. As a result, the pain of love, political and religious dilemmas, and the vanishing simple country life are recurring themes in many of his works, especially his poetry. For example, in 1976 a reviewer for the New York Times Book Review commented that Montague has "been working with large sequences that relate his personal life and psyche to his family's background in rural Ulster and to the whole of Ireland's catastrophic history."

Writing in the Malahat Review, Derek Mahon described Montague as "the best Irish poet of his generation.... Montague is not a metaphysician: he is a historian and autobiographer." Montague has long been appreciated for his deep feeling for Ireland—the people and the landscape—and his ability to reflect these emotions in his poetry. A reviewer for Choice pointed out that Montague's "best poems have always been those poems about himself, full of the intensity of feeling, the power of experience."

His intense feelings are especially evident in his collection The Rough Field. Hollins Critic reviewer Benedict Kiely wrote that this is Montague's most remarkable book and "one of the most interesting statements made in this century about Ireland past and present....Itisa unity, a movement and sequence of poems as strong and steady as the mountain stream descending on the lowlands to define a world, taking with it the past and present of that one small backward place, but a place over-burdened with history.... Family history and his own personal agony, and the history of the place over three and a half centuries . . . are all twisted together, strands in a strong rope." M. L. Rosenthal pointed out in the Nation that Montague's "poems come out of a deeply human speaking personality for whom language and reality are more than just a source of a plastic design of nuances.... [The author] tells a story, paints a picture, evokes an atmosphere, suggests the complexities and torments of adult love and marriage all in the most direct, concrete, involving way."

Serving as the editor of the anthology The Book of Irish Verse is another example of Montague's commitment to Ireland and his involvement in its heritage. Victor Howes remarked in the Christian Science Monitor that this collection of poetry written by other Irish authors "is rich in its translations of mythological early poems. It is similarly rich in its presentation of the 20th-century poets. [The] anthology conveys the sense that Irish poets are again finding a voice that is national, unique and as significant as it was in the days of 'Eire of high recital / Recital skillfully done,' the days of an Ireland known for its 'Kings and queens and poets a-many.'" And a critic wrote in Choice that Montague's "winnowing results in an anthology having the vibrancy and understated qualities of fineness that mark all that is best in the Irish tradition."

While his poetry reveals his interest in Ireland's heritage, it also demonstrates Montague's very contemporary sensibility; he typically writes about current Irish issues and topics. Not everyone, however, felt that Montague performs a service to his homeland by publicizing some of Ireland's troubles and problems. Derek Mahon wrote in the Malahat Review that "Montague has been criticized for 'using' the present crisis in Ulster as raw material for his poetry. (His critics do not, however, accuse Yeats of doing the same thing at an earlier period.) The criticism seems to me at best an injustice founded in misunderstanding—at worst a cheap jibe. The implication, an essentially philistine one, is that something as frivolous as poetry has no business concerning itself with something as serious as human suffering.... Ireland is central to Montague's myth, and has been since his first booklet . . . was published."

Still another respected and admired feature of Montague's work is his craftsmanship. "Montague has always been a fastidious craftsman," W. J. McCormack wrote in the Times Literary Supplement. And M. L. Rosenthal explained in the Nation that "Montague does have a highly developed sense of the craft; he is a real poet, who works at his desk and drinks of the tradition. But he brings all his engagement with his art directly to bear on the world of our common life . . . and thus makes immediate contact with his readers. He thinks and talks like a grown-up man, and that fact alone makes him better literary company than most of his poetic contemporaries." In the poetry collection The Dead Kingdom, for example, Montague recounts his travels from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland for his mother's funeral. During this journey, Montague reflects upon his life and family, mourns the secular and religious division of Ireland, and vividly depicts the Irish landscape. The collection is divided into five sections and is characterized by several critics as elegiac in tone. While Douglas Dunn of Times Literary Supplement and Martin Bax of British Book News complained that the style of some of the poems, such as "Deities," is overblown, Dunn comments that "[w]ithout the contemporary hyperbole . . . The Dead Kingdom would be wonderfully unified, its narrative movement, its marriage of public and private realms, of curse and blessing, little short of tremendous." Montague's technical proficiency was also noted by a Publishers Weekly reviewer who said that Death of a Chieftain and Other Stories exhibits the author's "hyperawareness of the sounds of words and the connotations of dialect . . . [that] make these technically proficient stories musical, oddly arresting and morally complex."

Critics such as Fred Beake in Stand perceived a tension "between [Montague's] Irish and American roots" in the author's Selected Poems. "[Montague] would often have us believe that he is a little more Irish than perhaps he is," noted Beake. Along with Irish identity, the shades of emotion and experience associated with love are also prominent motifs in the collection. Reviewing the volume in The New York Times Book Review, Christopher Ricks commented: "It is because his poems find love hard—whether it is the love of Ireland or of individuals—that they do find love." Praising Selected Poems in the Hudson Review, Vernon Young observed: "No sooner have I decided that Montague is preeminently the poet of landscape than I reread one of his shattering love poems and divide my mind." Montague's interest in the familiar themes of Ireland, love, and nature are again prominent in the poetry collection Mount Eagle. While Sean O'Brien of Times Literary Supplement argued that the love poems in the collection "are among the weakest," explaining that "their slackness provokes questions about [Montague's] sense of what poetry should offer," Adam Thorpe offered a generally positive assessment of the volume in the London Observer: "Mount Eagle celebrates as well as remembers, circling around relationships, fatherhood, and an almost transcendent yearning for peace."

The theme of love is of central significance in Montague's collection About Love, which explores such topics as sexuality, marriage, and adultery, often incorporating imagery drawn from Celtic legends and mythology. "From love to divorce to death for lack of love to loneliness in old age, this volume is a veritable symphony," commented Stephen Dobyns in the New York Times Book Review. Autobiography strongly informs Montague's poetry collection Time in Armagh, in which Montague reflects upon a difficult period of his schooling in St. Patrick's College, a junior seminary in Armagh that he attended from 1941 to 1946. "The manner of most of these poems is curiously relaxed, given the evidently difficult nature of the personal terrain that they traverse," observed Peter Denman in the Irish Literary Supplement. "The end result is curiously uplifting," noted Adam Thorpe in the London Observer, "if only because [Montague] survived to report on life so finely." Praised by many critics for its broad scope and craftsmanship, Montague's Collected Poems presents a survey of Montague's poetic development from 1958 through 1995. Reviewing the volume in Agenda, Desiree Hirst commented: "The tone passes, from violent indignation expressed through historical records, to quiet elegy and lyrical meditation up to bitter regret or the highest of spirits. Shafts of satire, too, are struck."

Montague is regarded as an accomplished prose stylist as well as a poet. His essay collection The Figure in the Cave, for example, presents essays written since 1951. Donald P. Kaczvinsky of Library Journal noted that the volume constitutes "an intellectual and artistic autobiography" in its discussion of Montague's experiences in America and Ireland. The first part of the volume contains personal essays, many of which provide an informative context for Montague's own poetry, while the second section presents Montague's essays and reviews on a variety of noted literary figures. Maurice Harmon in the Irish Literary Supplement commented: "[Montague] loves the company of other writers, respects their hidden feelings, their self-defenses, their unpredictability, and revels in good conversation."

Critics noted that although Montague is best known as a poet, his prose works, including The Lost Notebook and An Occasion of Sin, reveal his skill as a fiction writer. The Lost Notebook, a novella, portrays a man's spiritual, sexual, and artistic rite of passage when he travels to Italy to make a religious pilgrimage to Rome, and instead has a love affair with a woman in Florence. "The small details of the story are so telling, the symbolism so natural and glowing, the cadences of the poetic prose so accomplished that one is forced to compare the book itself to the Renaissance paintings that haunt the story," commented Kevin McEneaney in the Irish Literary Supplement. An Occasion of Sin presents eleven short stories by Montague, nine of which appeared in his earlier volume of short fiction, Death of a Chieftain and Other Stories. Critics noted that although Montague is not a prolific short story writer, he clearly demonstrates a mastery of the short fictional form, which he uses effectively to address many of the same Irish themes that appear in his poetry. "Ignorance and small-mindedness appear in many [of the] stories and are a feature of both rural and city life," observed Eamonn Wall in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

Collected Poems traces Montague's career from the 1950s through the 1990s, and includes three of his most notable longer works: The Rough Field, The Great Cloak, and The Dead Kingdom. Critics used the publication of the volume as an opportunity to evaluate Montague's career. Most critics remarked on the equal presence of politically tinged poems and love poems, both permeated with sorrow. William Pratt of World Literature Today commented on the similarities between the two subjects: "What bind people together are conspiracy, confrontation, violence, and lust, never trust or sympathy." But Ben Howard, writing in Poetry, found redemption amidst Montague's torment, saying that "if his poems have sometimes been cries of anguish and bursts of anger, they have also been acts of healing and restoration."

A virtue of Collected Poems, said Howard, is the fact that it covers so many decades of Montague's work. It allows the reader "to witness an undistinguished formal style evolving into something far more supple and personal—a gentle, sensuous fine that hovers somewhere between formal verse and 'open' form." Memories of Montague's childhood, his lament for the troubles of Ulster, his fractured marriage, and odes that recognize the literary heritage of Ireland are all subjects covered in the collection. The most recent poem included is "Border Sick Call," from 1995, which tells the story of Montague and his brother, a doctor, on their journey from a hateful but civilized world to the wilderness, shedding the trappings of modern life as they forge ahead in their mission to heal those who ail. R. T. Smith of the Southern Review wrote that the poem has "great power" and is one of his "finest since The Rough Field." Smith concluded that the collection is a "splendid and provocative blend of the personal with the political, the international with the local, and the formal with the spontaneous."

Smashing the Piano is a collection of poems that take stock of Montague's past. Subjects range from his boyhood hobby of reading cartoons, to the comfort provided by his Aunt Brigid during his early years in Ireland, to odes for friends and mentors through the years, and his debt to William Butler Yeats. Montague contemplates the past "from a serene and even playful perspective," wrote Mary Kaiser in World Literature Today, who concluded that Smashing the Piano is a collection with a "mellow, reminiscent tone" written by a "poetic master."

Montague's memoir, Company: A Chosen Life, covers details of the poet's life that haven't made it into his previous work, namely, tales of his friends, including a who's-who roster of famous writers he has cavorted with through the years. Among the luminaries Montague remembers are Irish poets Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh, whose fiery personalities are legendary, but with whom Montague got on well, and Samuel Beckett, whom Montague knew in Paris, and who comes across as uncharacteristically jovial. Behan, who was especially self-destructive, Montague calls "a formidable little bull crackling with energy and affection for the world," who was also "the only trilingual bisexual" he'd ever met. He also reveals his affection for Georgie Yeats, widow of William Butler, who he says had "an extraordinary sense of humour." Ports of call other than Ireland covered in the book include Paris, Texas, and California. Missing from the volume are details of the poet's personal life, his marriage in particular, and clear facts regarding sexual liaisons that are only hinted at. P. J. Kavanagh, writing in the Spectator, said that "the stories are revealing and well told, worth telling," but that "it is as though Montague trusts poetry for confession but not prose."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 13, 1980, Volume 46, 1988.

Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Ford, Boris, editor, The Present, Penguin, 1983.

Kersnowski, Frank, John Montague, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1975.

Kinsella, Thomas, Myth, History, and Literary Tradition, Dundalk Arts, 1989.

Montague, John, Company: A Chosen Life, Duckworth (London, England), 2001.

Redshaw, Thomas Dillon, editor, Hill Field: Poems and Memoirs for John Montague on His 60th Birthday, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 1989.


Agenda, autumn, 1996, pp. 206-26.

American Book Review, November, 1990, p. 22.

Bloomsbury Review, May/June, 1993, p.15.

British Book News, September, 1984.

Choice, May, 1977; December, 1978.

Christian Science Monitor, June 9, 1977.

Hollins Critic, December, 1978.

Hudson Review, summer, 1983, pp. 399-407.

Irish Literary Supplement, fall, 1989, p. 8; fall, 1990, p. 19; spring, 1994, p. 11; spring, 1996, p. 29.

Library Journal, June 1, 1968; August, 1970; July, 1977.

Malahat Review, July, 1973.

Nation, May 17, 1971.

New Statesman, August 18, 1967.

New York Times, March 23, 1968.

New York Times Book Review, September 19, 1976; May 22, 1983, p. 15; June 25, 1992, p. 14; August 21, 1994, p. 23.

Observer (London), September 23, 1990, p. 57; November 21, 1993.

Poetry, February, 1998, Ben Howard, review of Collected Poems, p. 279.

Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1989, p. 453; November 16, 1992, p. 57; September 20, 1993, p. 67.

Punch, January 3, 1968.

Quill & Quire, April, 1985, p. 77.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1993, p. 253.

School Librarian, November, 1990, p. 156.

South Carolina Review, fall, 1999, review of The Dead Kingdom and The Rough Field, p. 100.

Southern Review, winter, 1998, R. T. Smith, review of Collected Poems, p. 180.

Spectator, December 5, 1970; September 8, 2001, P. J. Kavanagh, review of Company: A Chosen Life, p. 38.

Stand, Volume 20, number 1, 1978-79; autumn, 1991, pp. 82-83; spring, 1992, p. 29.

Times Literary Supplement, January 5, 1967; November 9, 1967; March 19, 1976; August 11, 1978; July 16, 1982; October 5, 1984; April 27, 1990; August 2, 1996, p. 25; June 29, 2001, review of Selected Poems, p. 7; April 12, 2002, Peter Reading, "Travels and Travails," p. 22Village Voice Literary Supplement, February, 1983.

World Literature Today, winter, 1997, William Pratt, review of Collected Poems, p. 155; winter, 2001, Mary Kaiser, review of Smashing the Piano, p. 121.*

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Montague, John (Patrick) 1929-

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Montague, John (Patrick) 1929-