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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

THE IDEA OF POETRY Charles Causley, Secret Destinations (Macmillan) £7.95
Alison Fell, Kisses for Mayakovsky (Virago) £2.95 pb.
Judith Kazantzis, Let's Pretend (Virago) £2.95 pb.
Grace Nichols, The Fat Black Woman's Poems (Virago) £2.95 pb.

It is sometimes tempting to speculate on the Idea of Poetry; and sometimes it is not merely tempting, but necessary. Why, for example, is Charles Causley's work so popular? The answers to that question might range from the strictly pragmatic and over-simplified ('he's been around a long time') through all-embracing critical commonplaces ('Ah, his technique') to the severely theoretical, but at some point in their half-compass they must grapple with an Idea which is the Idea of Poetry. The relevant thesis of this is: Causley is a popular poet because an Idea of Poetry exists; he writes what many people think of as poetry. And what is this artefact? It is a thing quite different from what many contemporary critics would have us believe; its idea is an idea even cruder and more haphazard than theirs. It rests on the assertion (which on the face of it looks ridiculously naïve) that poetry is an idea of 'word-pictures', that its structures are somehow correspondent to the localized energies of a single controlling vision. Ask any child to write a poem and you will tend to get a list of word-pictures in reply. It is a kind of fauvisme du texte and, although its idea is haphazard (if poetry is word-pictures, why not prose?), this is, for some, an attraction; the 'word-pictures' hypothesis can also translate as accessibility. But exactly what is this, and how does 'accessibility' operate in Causley's verse?

The principle of endings is a useful starting-point. ...


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