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Toccata and Fugue

John F. Deane

Cover Picture of Toccata and Fugue
Categories: 21st Century, Christianity, Irish
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (140 pages)
(Pub. Jul 2000)
9781857544671
Out of Stock
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  • You have been too long absent;
    we have been drifting on a violent ocean
    while our children dig our hearts out
    with their indifferent, probing fingernails...

    from 'The Storm'


    In Toccata and Fugue John F. Deane selects from the full range of his work a representative core. He emerges as a substantial and original poet, for whom the old verities retain some of their truth and the accelerating fin-de-siècle is not an unmitigated good.

    He explores the ways in which an individual copes in imagination and in life with pain (over the loss of a young wife) in the context of an inherited and not always answering religious faith. In a world of material progress, of wars and their consequences, of spiritual loss and inhumanity, how does religious faith survive, and can it grow and intensify? Does it legitimise or chain down the poem?

    Deane starts from the almost heretical premise that the creation was an aberration, God interrupting His eternal peace to set humanity loose in a self-destroying cycle. John Montague characterises Deane's 'affronted gentleness': the poems 'radiate the desire of the spirit to believe, despite the harshness of our world'. It is not surprising that one of his tutelary spirits is Vincent Van Gogh.

    'Fugue', a long poem, breaks new formal and thematic ground in Irish poetry. Toccata and Fugue as a whole is thoughtful, provocative poetry, alert with lyricism and a passionate love of the world. Denise Levertov wrote:
    'When John Deane fuses the music of thought and feeling with the music of language itself, there rises in me that internal Yes! that we unconsciously hunger to experience as we approach a poem or any work of art. The perceptions offered to us are new, someone else's, not merely an articulation of the familiar; yet we somehow recognize exactitude.'


    John F. Deane was born on Achill Island in 1943. He founded Poetry Ireland – the National Poetry Society – and The Poetry Ireland Review in 1978, and is the founder of The Dedalus Press, of which he was editor from 1985 until 2006. In 2008 he was visiting scholar in ... read more
    Awards won by John F. Deane Short-listed, 2016 Irish Times Poetry Now Award  (Semibreve) Winner, 2011 Golden Key of Smederevo award

    'The power of Toccata and Fugue lies in its beautiful rendering of unbeautiful things. Deane takes as his subjects what might ordinarily make one turn away: road kill, snared vermin, kittens in a sack weighed with stones for drowning, a seal washed ashore to die, lambs taken for slaughter, worms hooked for fishing and snails tortured by a child. Yet there is nothing pathological about it. Compassion not cruelty motivates the speakers in his poems whose unwavering gaze attests to their engagement with these subjects.'
    Georgia Scott, Poetry Salzburg Review Autumn 2002
    Praise for John F. Deane 'Deane finds the embedded music of particular moments - the inscape of them - and understands their cosmic vitality... [he] draws us into deeper listening and invites us into sacred, transcendent encounter.'

    Michael P. Murphy, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry 2019


    'John Deane invites all human beings, or pilgrims, whether Christian or not, to partake in his revelatory, redemptive collection... a true cosmic poetry for all of us, in all time.'

    Patricia McCarthy, Agenda: Ekphrastic Issue


    'Master-sonneteer, the Teilhard de Chardin of Irish poetry, Achill chronicler and gazer at the heavens, John F. Deane has created a real beauty of a collection in Dear Pilgrims.'

    Thomas McCarthy, Poetry Ireland Review  

      'These are words of a poet who lives history, who breathes at one with the world around him. Deane reminds the reader that we live only for a short while on this rock in space but that that time is precious and profound. We are all dear pilgrims - whether we realise it or not.'
    Dublin Review of Books
     'These poems are rich, evocative, replete with natural imagery, searching to know and express the unknowable.'
    Niamh Pattwell, The Furrow
    'Deane's work has always been distinguished by the wholeness of it's vision, and the poems of Dear Pilgrims are no exception: the joy and compassion of his responses to the natural world are of a piece with his spiritual preoccupations, and gesture towards his poetic forebears, in particular Hopkins and Kavanagh.'
    Caitriona O'Reilly, The Irish Times
      'Both these collections (Dear Pilgrims & The White Silhouette by James Harpur) give the lie to the idea that it is no longer possible to think and write creatively and freshly about religion in modern poetry: both Deane and Harpur look back for some of their insights, especially biographically, but their poetry remains conspicuously watching, tasting and touching today's world.'
    Stride Magazine

      'There is light and muscularity in these poems that sometimes unexpectedly recalls Ted Hughes'
    Stride Magazine
    'On a simple level, the poems in John F Deane's Semibreve (Carcanet) are elegies for the past and specifically for a lost brother. More profoundly, they teach us how bereavement, touched by a poet's tongue, can become a shared gift: "wonders of the flesh and spirit, a road-map for a shattered faith"'.
    The Guardian
      'Music, a stony, damp and deeply alive landscape (both Ireland and the Holy Land), a passionate and searching engagement with God -  specifically with the local and physical God that is the central figure of the gospels - these are poems with all of John Deane's familiar richness. A deeply welcome collection.'
    Rowan Williams
    'Deane is a true poet. I have not space here to do him justice'
    Helena Nelson, Ambit
    'Deane is an exemplary poet.'
    Gerard Smyth, Warwick Review
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