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This review is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

STRANGE TREASURES, OR NOT Freda Downie, Plainsong (Secker & Warburg) £4.50
Dannie Abse, Way Out in the Centre (Hutchinson) £5.95/£2.95
Peter Howe, Origins (Chatto/Hogarth) £3.50
Michael Hulse, Knowing and Forgetting (Secker & Warburg) £4.50

'But if only reviewers could aim at honesty!' declared Edward Thomas in 'Reviewing: An Unskilled Labour'. 'They need not return boring books to the editor . . . let them try to understand why they are bored and tell us, confessing also plainly what they most dislike, what they come nearest to liking, and so on.' It sounds a desirable, and possibly an attainable goal. But in the same essay, Thomas recognised that 'the most difficult . . . most practicable and useful review, is the one which gives some information about unknown books.' And he added: 'To do this fairly with continuous prose books is not easy: with verse it is apparently so difficult that nobody attempts it.' The sting, and the challenge, is of course in the word 'fairly': to be both honest and fair stands not within the prospect of belief!

Honesty, then, compels the admission that three of these four books seem to me to contain much that is indeed 'boring' or worse; that all four suggest uncertainties both about what poetry is for and about what poetry is; and that between them they revive some general, hardly very original, worries about the whole question of poetry and audience. Honesty, too, prompts and fairness demands a caveat: the three books which I didn't enjoy have been well-liked by other readers, and it's possible-indeed, probable-that much of what follows is mainly indicative of dimness on the part of this reader.

Freda Downie's ...
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