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

TO STAND AGAINST CHAOS BERNARD SPENCER, Complete Poetry, Translations and Selected Prose, ed. by Peter Robinson (Bloodaxe Books) £15

This edition of Bernard Spencer's poetry, together with translations and prose on poetry, is likely to be definitive following from Roger Bowen's edition of Spencer's Collected Poems in 1981, which augmented the Alan Ross edition of 1965 with previously uncollected poems and four translations from Eugenio Montale. Peter Robinson has extended the collection with a large selection of translations from George Seferis and a long poem from Odysseus Elytis as well as including more from Spencer's uncollected poems plus a selection from his occasional and unfinished poems. There are more prose pieces, including an obituary note on Keith Douglas and a short article on Lawrence Durrell. Both Douglas and Durrell were associated with Spencer in the Middle East during the war, publishing together in the magazine Personal Landscape.

Robinson provides an excellent introduction to illuminate how Spencer often pushed at the limits of conventional poetic technique; for example, with his use of internal rhyme, as in 'Regent's Park Terrace' - 'hourly these unpick / the bricks of a London terrace'. More significantly, he explores the source of energy for Spencer's poetry: 'Spenser's poetry is formed against the pressures of an underlying sense of things being broken up, unconnected, unrelated; and to be accurate to such an awareness his poems must accommodate the pressure of merely accidental proximity of things, even as they work to transform accidental proximity into meaningful structures'. This seems an astute summary of Spencer's 'great theme', and the significance of the many acutely observed ...


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