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This review is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

OTHER-WORLDLY POETRY PETER LEVI, Reed Music (Anvil) £7.95
WILLIAM LOGAN, Vain Empires (Peterloo Poets) £7.95
FLEUR ADCOCK, Looking Back (Oxford University Press) £6.99
AMY CLAMPITT, Collected Poems (Faber & Faber) £14.99

There's a curious sense of disorientation about reading Peter Levi's new collection. His first since 1989, Reed Music strikes one as having been the product of not alone these nine accumulated years, but of the centuries of British poetry whose preoccupations and established forms are props on which this book relies. It's not just the blank verse, though there is plenty of that too, most of it cleanly observed, but there are moments when its slightly curtailed or extended syllabic count suggest an off-beat contemporaneity which is not at home in the stanzas of these poems.

Perhaps Levi is the last of the Pre-Modernists. Certainly, Reed Music has an antiquated feel to it, and a range of metrical forms and rhyme-schemes inherited from a bygone age. In Section 17 of his 'Poem for the Time of Year', for example, the single contemporary reference is isolated in a sestet which is otherwise rather archaic:

Fish lorries churn along the Bristol road
the dying sun and moon that have bestowed
these sombre tones and the decaying thud
in the far wood have passed on to the earth
their gift of life, their talent for rebirth,
their strange colours have ended in the mud.

The sentiments are resoundingly Romantic; the rhyme-scheme doggedly nineteenthcentury; the enjambment creaky, and the vocabulary borrowed from Palgrave. Levi's chosen forebears - Tennyson, Valéry and Dante - suggest that he is not too bothered about ...


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