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This review is taken from PN Review 207, Volume 39 Number 1, September - October 2012.

A Craft Well Learned clive wilmer, New and Collected Poems (Carcanet) £18.95

A Collected by a living poet doesn't necessarily represent a final statement, but it's likely to be viewed by its readership as a summation of its author's creative life. It's clear from one of the epigraphs chosen to preface his substantial New and Collected Poems that Clive Wilmer is himself thinking of the volume in precisely these terms: quoting from Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture ('let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred') he implicitly invites us to consider the collection as a durable and skilfully constructed monument.

The foundations are certainly solid. Wilmer is a scholarly writer, with an Eliotean sense of literary tradition, and these poems quietly insist on their ancestry, echoing Dante, Milton, Vaughan, Hopkins and Yeats among others. If the poems in his first collection, The Dwelling-Place, seemed a little old-fashioned even at the time of their first publication, this was largely because, in ways more overt than was usual for young poets in the 1970s, Wilmer was turning to the past for his inspiration. The formal diction and careful structuring of these poems suggest a serious apprenticeship served under the influence of that 'historical sense' which, as Eliot says, 'compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe ...


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