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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

UNNATURAL HABITAT Earth Songs: A Resurgence anthology of contemporary eco-poetry, edited by Peter Abbs (Green Books) £9.95

This is an anthology compiled with seriously good intentions. The magazine Resurgam, born in 1996, has followed its pacific, rural, humane way decade after decade; this anthology enlists a diversity of living poets to `take the environmental agenda of the 21st century into the imagination', as the blurb has it. Whether that is exactly the plan such contributors as Thom Gunn, David Constantine or Charles Tomlinson had for their poems when they wrote them seems arguable, and this platform anthology raises a question: how far are individual poems culled from their natural habitats in their authors' publications changed when put in a conservation area blessed by Jonathon Porritt and Anita Roddick? These poems, taken from single volumes, collections and magazine publication in Britain end America, have become `eco-poetry'.

Peter Abbs has devised a shaping mechanism to present the reader with a `collective narrative, a kind of verbal symphony', as he puts it. We start with the primal elements, or building blocks of the universe, then move through visions of sickness, diverse life-forms, landscapes and small epiphanies to those trickier sections where the editor relates human creativity and our species's capacity for love to a `universal solidarity'. The closing section questions our reliance on rational and scientific interpretation; the poems here tend to retreat from the particular into that universality which marks the opening section. We are directed towards dances, silences, mysteries. `The honeysuckle the blackberry / They laugh at history' says the boy in Hugo Williams's The ...


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