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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

NURSERY VERSE Michael O'Neill, The Stripped Bed (Collins Harvill) £5.95
Robert Crawford, A Scottish Assembly (Chatto & Windus) £5.99
Simon Armitage, Zoom! (Bloodaxe Books) £4.95
Peter Sansom, Everything You've Heard is True (Carcanet) £5.95
Alan Jenkins, Greenheart (Chatto & Windus) £5.99

It is the obvious technical polish and seeming speed of movement of Michael O'Neill's verse that make the first impression, and it is also the impression that abides. The technique, roughly, is that of juxtaposing images, memories, phrases, snatches of speech, etc. to create a packed assemblage of particulars that is intended to hint at deeper matters. The themes are mostly autobiographical: childhood; feeling left out; being an Irish Catholic and middle-class in Liverpool; father and son, their inability to communicate; marriage, the silences between husband and wife; deaths and absences; adopting a child; the loneliness of writing; teaching literature to uncomprehending students (one would like to see an anathema pronounced on poems, written or yet to be written, that deal in any way whatsoever with the study or teaching of literature). The results, though, are frigid, the themes being used, one feels, as convenient pegs for technical display, rather than being matters the poet feels compelled to explore, so that no genuine mystery or metaphysical terror is communicated, though that, it seems, is what O'Neill would like to do.

The first poem in the collection, 'The Neighbourhood', indulges in what Dennis Keene has called, in a fine phrase, 'FilmFun humour': 'clattering like goats / they'd leave me sheepishly behind ...'; 'A bulldozed plot squared up to us for months. / Gangs carved initials through heart-broken bark ...' There is less of this sort of thing subsequently, but it points to the kind of surface cleverness, constantly ...


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