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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Genius of Activity Robert Wells
Peter once told me that he has never begun a poem without finishing it. My thoughts soon turn to this remark, a salutary one for me, when I think of him. With Peter, there is always activity – and the activity always has a result. When invited to write about some aspect of his activity for this birthday celebration, I find myself puzzled. Which is it to be? It must be the poetry, first of all. But each of Peter’s doings, each with its result, is an aspect of the genius of activity which rules in him indivisibly and shows itself with the same deft accuracy and practical spirit in whatever he sets his hand to. Whatever task, I was going to say. But task is too heavy a word. Peter makes heavy things seem light – the writing of a formal ode, the assembling of a book catalogue, an open-air dramatic production, the restoration of an ancient house. His gravity allows for play and delights in it. He distrusts the vatic, and indeed any sign of undue literary self-importance. But if amid the gossip and banter of casual conversation you stop and ask for Peter’s settled view of some matter, he will pause briefly, and then with a Johnsonian directness and finality he will give it in plain and perfect sentences.

Peter’s poetry began, amid the press of family life and his professional life as a teacher, as one among a dozen pursuits – one that had been kept rather in reserve because of the value he placed on it ...

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