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Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn

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Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry 2011.

Reviewed and selected by our poetry expert, Liam Parkin.

Profit and Loss is a collection that deals with a reality of such concepts. The first part, entitled ‘A Gothic’ brings forth memories, particularly associated with the house or home. Many of them deal with loss and the sentimental attachment weighed upon these important times. The third part brings it back to this idea of personal grief, but offers glimmers of hope and happiness. However, it is the middle poem, ‘Letter to Friends’, that really stands out in this collection. It carries notions of post-modern anxiety in an increasingly digitally reliant culture, containing deep-probing questions and sparks of humour. Flynn has a good sense as to what life is all about, and encapsulates the events that tend to define us as an individual. She writes with a unique and interesting self-awareness, and through this we feel a close affinity to the voices inside.

Click here to visit the Poetry Book Society page for Reading Groups and to download extracts from the T S Eliot Prize shortlist.


Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn

Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry 2011.

Celebrated as an unusually original poet - nervy, refreshing, deceptively simple - Leontia Flynn has quickly developed into a writer of assured technical complexity and a startling acuity of perception. In her third collection, Flynn examines and dismantles a fugitive life. The first sequence moves through a series of rooms, reflecting on aspects of the author's personal and family history. Using the idea of the haunted house or the house with a sealed-off room, and Gothic tropes of madness, doubles, revenants and religious brooding, the poems consider ideas of inheritance and legacy. The second section comprises a magnificent long poem written in the months leading up to the banking crisis and presidential election of October 2008. Taking as its occasion a flat-clearing, it assumes a more public voice (inspired partly by Auden's Letter to Lord Byron ), and reflects on aspects of the rapid social and technological change of the last decade. An extraordinarily moving reflection on mutability and mortality prompted by the spring-cleaning of a life's detritus, Letter to Friends evolves from a private reliquary to a public obsequy. Its collapse back into private griefs, including the poet's father's decline into Alzheimer's disease, is pursued in the third section of the book. Here the theme of a tallying of private and public balance sheets, of different kinds of profit and loss, widens to include poems of motherhood and marriage, the possibilities of hope and repair.


An outstanding Audenesque long poem, Letter to Friends makes this book essential reading, as it brilliantly captures the zeitgeist... -- Sarah Wardle * Poetry Review * My favourite book was Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn, demonstrating her unrivalled capacity as a good-humoured but devastating observer of the modern secular scene. Letter to Friends , Flynn's long poem about the way we live now, is a masterpiece. -- Bernard O'Donoghue * TLS Books of the Year * Flynn's place as one of the strongest and most skilful poetic voices of her generation is confirmed in Profit and Loss... [In Letter to Friends ] like Auden, she addresses important issues here in a language that is both playful and serious, and in a form that is, if not large enough to swim in , at least robust enough to contain the many concerns she raises in it, from the delights and torments of personal and familial memory to the function and value of poetry in (postmodern) society. -- Philip Coleman * Irish Times * ...A stunning third collection. Though she's the youngest poet on the T.S. Eliot shortlist, Flynn writes with a sharp-eyed almost fatalistic wisdom. Her striking 320-line poem in iambic pentameter Letter to Friends , could be described as a State of the Union address - one that is highly personal but that takes stock of the larger world. It is this broad view that is one of her great strengths, as is her tone: sometimes earnest, sometimes irreverent, but invariably appealing. -- Kathryn Maris * Time Out *

About the Author

Leontia Flynn was born in 1974 and lives in Belfast. Her first book, These Days, won the 2004 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her second, Drives, was awarded the 2008 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. She is currently post-doctoral research fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st September 2011


Leontia Flynn

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Jonathan Cape Ltd an imprint of Vintage Publishing


80 pages


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