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This review is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

A KIND OF HOMECOMING ALAN ROSS, After Pusan (Harvill) £9.99

Pusan is a coastal city in the south-east of South Korea, facing Japan across the Korea Strait. Alan Ross found it on the map as a boy, quickened to the name when he read the memoirs of William Plomer, and at last journeyed to Pusan himself in 1986, taking the account written by the formidable Victorian travel writer Isabella Bird as his vade-mecum. After Pusan opens with a thirty-page prose memoir of that visit, economically and self-effacingly told, deft in its detail and tireless in its curiosity. Ross visits Seoul and the demilitarized zone along the North Korean border too; with a light touch he gives equal attention to rivers and gorges, to the thirteenth-century wooden printing blocks at Haeinsa, to traditional music, to political thuggery, and to tunnels dug by the North Koreans to facilitate a fast strike against Seoul. The voice is familiar from other prose by Alan Ross: engagingly courteous and enquiring, vividly empirical, and affectionate.

This memoir is more than merely an adjunct to Ross's other travel writings, though, and more than only a prelude to the poems which fill the rest of these hundred pages. After Pusan breaks a long silence in his life as a poet; and it was that visit to Korea - at a time when Ross had begun to fear that poetry might give him up as it gave up Larkin - that suggested to him 'that if poetry was ever going to come again it might do ...


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