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This review is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

CHANGE RULES COLIN NICHOLSON, Edwin Morgan: Inventions of Modernity (Manchester UP) £40.00
A Meeting for Douglas Oliver and 27 Uncollected Poems, edited by Peter Riley and Wendy Mulford (Peter Riley Books) £10.00
DREW MILNE, Mars Disarmed (The Figures) $10.00

`I've always tended to feel that in writing poetry you're just writing for human beings, you're writing for everybody.' Now in his early eighties, Edwin Morgan continues to write for human beings, and academic criticism has caught up with him in this monograph on his work. One problem with literary criticism is that it is not for everybody, and there is always a risk that critics will find themselves discussing the everybodyness of literature in terms that appear to compete for the prize of most abstruse essay ever written. Strange ways of thinking, speaking and writing can help to change the world; but what gives nonsense the human touch?

Colin Nicholson provides a handy account of Morgan taking up the challenge of comprehensibility from Mayakovsky. The Russian futurist, we are reminded, `was accused of not being intelligible to workers and peasants'. Mayakovsky insisted that once the consciousness of the futurists had become that of the masses, artists would no longer need to rally under `futurism'; he held that art `is not born mass art, it becomes mass art as the result of a sum of efforts'. In translating Mayakovsky Morgan has, says Nicholson, presented us with an `interesting conjunction'. The Russian's (conventionally translated) `slanted cheekbones of the ocean' are given as `the great sea's camshach cheek-bleds', while `Could you play a nocturne / On a downspout flute?' becomes `wi denty thrapple / can ye wheeple / nocturnes fae a rone-pipe flute?' If Mayakovsky was unintelligible to peasants, ...


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