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This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

DIFFERENT INTELLIGENCES NORM SIBUM, In Laban's Field: Selected Poems (Carcanet) £7.95
MICHAEL HOFMANN, Corona, Corona (Faber & Faber) £7.99
CHRIS MCCULLY; Time Signatures (Carcanet) £6.95
KEITH CHANDLER, Passing Trade: Five Narrative Poems (Oak House, Damgate, Wymondham, Norfolk NR 18 QBQ) £4.95

The end of a century, and not too far from us, perhaps, the end of civilisation and the end of all life. It would be easy to live in restrospection, and that, it might be thought at first, is what the Canadian poet Norm Sibum does, with his stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, Marcus Aurelius, Propertius and Kierkegaard. It is not what he is doing. Instead, he creates a very original kind of dialectic between present and past, in which each illuminates and penetrates the other, though without any final resolution ever being reached. His themes are difficult and often profoundly unsettling, as in the brilliant 'Abraham's Bemusement', and his treatment of them is no mere 'treatment', a sit were separable from the subject, but a penetrating exploration. There is in his approach none of that bright post-modern cynicism that makes everything grist to the solipsistic mill of the present, .nor does he deal in 'effects' (and for those who are unable to distinguish between the 'effective' and the genuinely powerful in art, I suggest a reading of Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares). He recognises the resistances and recalcitrance of the past as well as of the present, and he respects also the reality of the individuals who appear in his poems: they are not used as mere 'materials' or excuses for poems.

The language of his poetry is curious. It is even-toned, almost flat, and can hold within this near-flatness extreme discrepancies of diction, from the ...


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