Birthplace: Ireland (Belfast)
Mahon was classically trained at Trinity College, Dublin.
Mahon’s sensibility is extensively in European as well as Irish and anglophone literary traditions, for example Brecht; Camus; Coleridge; Joyce; Jack Yeats; W. B. Yeats; Pasternak; Racine; Rimbaud; Swift; Dylan Thomas; Valery.
Original Greek and Latin Source(s)
Aristophanes; Euripides; Heraclitus; Homer; Lucretius; Ovid; Sappho; Sophocles.
Myth in Greek and Latin literature.
Modern Greek Literature (Cavafy); French Literature (Racine); Joyce (Ulysses); W.B. Yeats
Associations with Literary Period/Movements
Mahon’s collaborations include The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, 1990, co-edited with Peter Fallon.
An important feature of Mahon’s work is its exploration of the poetry and politics of uncertainties, especially the ideas of home, and exile (cf. Heaney and Longley), and of modernity. His use of classical material is crucial to this, e.g. his poem ‘Calypso’ (Harbour Lights, 2005) explores the notion of an Odyssean traveller who is excited by the prospect of not returning to Ithaca.
Mahon’s life experience is cosmopolitan. His background is of a northern Irish, Protestant, middle-class intellectual, but he has also lived and worked for long periods in several countries, including Canada, Ireland, England (London) and the USA (New York) and has travelled extensively in France and Italy. Translation of various kinds has been a major feature of his work. As well as poetic translating and excerpting that blurs the boundaries between translation and creativity (as in Harbour Lights, 2005), this has included translation of classical plays – Oedipus (Gallery Press 2006), a counterpoint to W.B. Yeats’ versions of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos and Oedipus at Colonos; Phaedra (The Gallery Press 1996, a response to Racine’s version); The Bacchae (after Euripides) (The Gallery Press, 1991). Mahon has also translated other works from French literature (including plays by Moliere and Rostand) and his collection Adaptations (The Gallery Press, 2006) includes translations from Irish, from the trobairitz [women troubadors] and from modern European poets such as Rilke.
C. Clutterbuck, ‘Elpenor's Crumbling Oar: Disconnection and Art in the Poetry of Derek Mahon.’ Irish University Review, 24 (1994), p. 6-26.
H. Haughton, The Poetry of Derek Mahon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007 (with extensive Bibliography and Inventory of Poems).
R. C. Homem, ‘Of Furies and Forgers: "Ekphrasis," Re-Vision, and Translation in Derek Mahon.’ New Hibernia Review 8 (2004), p.117-138.
E. Kennedy-Andrews, Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008. Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2008.
T.Kendall, ‘ “Leavetakings and Homecomings” : Derek Mahon’s Belfast’, Eire-Ireland 29.4, 1994.
J. Knowles, 'Weather Poems' (Review of Harbour Lights by Derek Mahon). Fortnight No.437 (Sept 2005), p.29
F. Macintosh, ‘When Gael Joins Greek.’ Books Ireland 162 (1992), p.189-191.
--- 'Irish Antigone and Burying the Dead', ch.4 in E. B. Mee and H. P. Foley, Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
A. E. McGuinnes, ‘Cast a Wary Eye: Derek Mahon's Classical Perspective.’ The Yearbook of English Studies 17 (1987), p.128-142.
C. Murray, ‘“For the Fun of the Thing": Derek Mahon's Dramatic Adaptations.’ Irish University Review 24 (1994), p.117-130.
S. Perris, ‘Dionysus the Leprechaun: Genre, Identity, and Parody in Derek Mahon's Bacchae.’ Arion, Third Ser. 16 (2008), p.53-82.
W. Scammell, ‘Derek Mahon Interviewed.’ Poetry Review 81 (1991), p.4-6.
D. Tobin, ‘In the Back of Beyond: Tradition and History in the Poetry of Derek Mahon.’ Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 88 (1999), p.295-304.
General Critical Works
T. Brown, ‘Out of Ulster 2: Heaney, Montague, Mahon and Longley’ in .T. Dorgan, ed., Irish Poetry since Kavanagh, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996.
M. Campbell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
N. Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, Bridgend: Seren Books, 1992.
E. Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1994.
P. McDonald, Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
Publications Poems with Classical referents
Series / Collections / Collected Works