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This review is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

SCENTS PETER RED GROVE, Abyssopllone (Stride) £6.95
GWYNETH LEWIS, Parables & Faxes (Bloodaxe)£6.95
MARGARET ATWOOD, Morningin the Burned House (Virago) £8.99

When a writer is praised as a 'great poet of the transforming eye' it usually means that he or she is lacking in ideas. No one could accuse Peter Redgrove, the recipient of this compliment, of any such thing. Redgrove famously has an Aladdin's cave of esoteric learning at his disposal and is as quick to share his erudition in his verse as in his prose. The problem is that Redgrove deploys these ideas in much the same way as he uses individual words, like brilliant physical objects devoid of any suggestive faculty. The scientific observation, scraps of occult philosophy and anthropological odds and ends that play such a dominant role in his work rarely dissolve into it, creating an overall effect of playful mosaic. An interest in the allusive power of ideas without much regard for their innate quality need not be a bad thing; before evoking an exciting postmodernism one need only think of the technique of Eliot in The Waste land, or even of Donne. The trouble is that in Redgrove there is no contextualising element that makes us want having a thought to be like inhaling a rose.

Smell is important to Redgrove. Throughout his recent work he exhibits a laudable commitment to reviving the neglected animal senses of smell and taste in English poetry. Here, though, Redgrove often seems fraught with the contradictory self-consciousness of all primitivists; the moment of surprised perceptual intimacy is pursued so obsessively that it is all but ...
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