Leontia Flynn's restless second collection sets off from Belfast, the poet's hometown, for a whistle-stop tour of cities such as Rome, Paris and New York. Poems whizz by. Only four of the volume's 53 pieces go over the page; many sit comfortably in the top half of one. They are packed, in an artful, off-the-cuff manner, with quotations and paraphrases, from Louis MacNeice and Elizabeth Bishop to Dorothy Parker and the Talking Heads. Along with Flynn's fondness for the sonnet, this learning recalls the Robert Lowell of Notebook. The tone of her poetry certainly suggests a writer trading the gravitas of Ireland's elder statesmen poets for a looser, American style.
While this leads to some amusingly unpoetic verse – Samuel Beckett "gives a quick shrug at the thought of his last anal cyst" – Flynn can be too off-hand, and the result is poetry of the "so what?" kind. It is a pitfall of the work of Michael Hofmann, the book's guiding spirit. He is present in its moments of detachment, in the thumbnail sketches of writers, and even in Flynn's handling of quotation marks. But the Irish poet is more animated, especially when she ends sentences with the yelp of an exclamation mark, ironic or not. Her appetites for life, books and travel make Drives an engaging read, sometimes in spite of itself.