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This article is taken from PN Review 203, Volume 38 Number 3, January - February 2012.

In the Light: Poetry of Robert Gray Jeffrey Wainwright
Prefacing his fine memoir, The Land I Came Through Last (2008), Robert Gray writes that his original intention was to write about his parents but that in the writing the book shaded into an autobiography. It certainly presents fascinating portraits of his family and of their contexts and times but finally it is indeed an autobiography, and quite self-consciously a poet's autobiography, even one firmly in the Romantic tradition.

Two particular episodes stand out. In the first Gray recalls the death of his pet dog, Lucky, flattened by a truck. Despite his mother's attempts at consolation, 'a heaven for dogs' which he couldn't imagine, Gray recalls himself as smitten by a sense that the 'situation was completely lumbering and pointless. This was just the empty way of things', he realised:

This incident was my baptism in reality... I stood on a place where there was a hard, bare floor. But when I looked out from there, I thought the dew on the grass more brilliant than ever. (p. 87)

The second also has to do with dissent from his mother's world-view, specifically her beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness. In her own mother's last illness her ravings were punctuated by vile obscenities which the young Robert's mother ascribed to the work of demons. His mother's influence could not extend so far over her son:

I could not for a moment believe in demons, and so not in any spirits - not ...


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