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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

TWO WAYS OF SEEING Gael Turnbull, A Gathering of Poems 1950-1980 (Anvil Press) £7.95, £4.95 pb.
Fleur Adcock, Selected Poems (OUP) £7.95.

Gael Turnbull is happy to utilize a number of different forms in order to communicate his view of a multi-faceted but ultimately hostile universe. The poems, written over thirty years, work best when they splash across big canvases; the miniatures seem too self-consciously emblematic and enigmatic.

This book, then, can gather together poems as different as 'Happiest' (' "Happiest/like this"/she said -/happy/with him/like that') and 'A Word/A Phrase' in which, as the poet says in a note, 'Any of the one hundred and twelve phrases may relate to any of the twenty-eight nouns. The order is random. This version is no less final than any other.' Individually the words and phrases are often striking ('a dance/as a gull, cliff edge, above surf') and the piece as a whole achieves a complex cumulative effect.

Perhaps the most completely successful poem in the book is the ambitious 'Twenty Words/Twenty Days'. In this domestic epic Turnbull chooses a word at random from a dictionary and builds a diary-poem around it for each one of twenty consecutive days in November and December 1963. These poems, tentatively anchored to their word for the day, take in discussions on memory, aesthetics, time, and the nature of self, as well as discussing the day's events. Sometimes the word chosen for the day seems apt, and at other times the day-poem struggles to accommodate the word. In this way the entire piece turns upon itself and becomes an examination of the poet's reasons ...


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