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This review is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

ART AND HEART Peter Abbs, Icons Of Time (The Gryphon Press) £6.00 pb
George Macbeth, Trespassing (Hutchinson Poets) £7.99 pb
George Szirtes, Bridge Passages (Oxford Poets) £5.99 pb
John Fuller, The Mechanical Body (Chatto Poetry) £5.99 pb
Gerard Woodward, Householder (Chatto Poetry) £5.99 pb

Subject can sometimes stand for achievement. The 'blue remembered hills' of childhood and relationships with 'lost' fathers are areas of experience which seem to promise much in terms of clear, simple perception and candid intimacy. The promise is at once an invitation and, one suspects, a way of disarming the critical faculties: here are emotions that don't need art.

Childhood and fathers and sons are central to Peter Abbs's 'experiment in autobiography', an ambitious sonnet sequence which comes garlanded with praise from, among others, Seamus Heaney and supported with quotes and epigraphs from Anais Nin, Eliot, Merleau Ponty, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kant and Heraclitus. These partly enact what one sonnet terms 'this dizzy spinning/ of myself' but also relate to statements elsewhere that 'the age conspires against the constant mind' and 'I cannot find the child I was'. Ultimately though Abbs is strong enough to dispense with this cultural architecture. The 'education gap' has perhaps been done better by Tony Harrison but what impresses here are an entirely 'natural' voice, the real sense of a personality emerging into the world and the genuine insights and consistent pleasures of the writing. 'Life's/a fucking swindle if you ask me, you said once/But I didn't really ask.' To get that exactly right is much harder than it looks and Abbs is alert to the way relationships do not end with death. The controlled and focused ending of the sonnet can however start to seem a little pat; open-ended forms would perhaps ...


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