Obituary: Brian Coffey

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The Independent Online
Michael Smith's excellent account of Brian Coffey's work [obituary, 17 April] will, I hope, lead Independent readers to the fullest edition of the neglected and "difficult" poet's work, Poems and Versions: 1929- 1980 (1991), writes Anthony Rudolf.

His reference to the enigmatic Mallarm as Coffey's ideal was itself partly enigmatic until one makes explicit that both taught in schools (though one supposes Coffey's equations were more accurate than Mallarm's English syntax) and both lost a child. But of course there was more to Coffey's admiration for Mallarm than that, and in his introduction to his Poems of Mallarm (1990) he rightly describes the poet as "the man who went further than any other in exploring the nature of poetry". As for the difficulty of some of his own work, the following description by Coffey of Mallarm is surely autobiographical and can serve as an earnest of the demands this fascinating and marvellous poet is entitled to make upon us: "We can discount the problem of difficulty, because unswerving patience and attention will resolve such `difficulties' as may be encountered."

Again, when he talks of Mallarm's poems coming "from the hands of a master poet writing as himself, untrammelled by masks and what literary hypotheses substitute for a living person", we can say that Coffey - unconsciously this time - is speaking of himself.

"And poetry, what of poetry," he asks in Missouri Sequence, "without which nothing exact is said? / Poetry becomes mankind. / Only it charms us / knowing in loving / any loving soul may share / what the rose does declare. / The habit of withholding love / unfits us for poetry."

The year of Brian Coffey's marriage was 1938, not 1972.