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This review is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Debased Coin blake morrison, Shingle Street (Chatto & Windus) £10

There’s a sequence of poems in Blake Morrison’s new collection, his first since the late 1980s, that begins with a self-penned epigraph. ‘Caution all prose hogs,’ it runs. ‘Poetry’s a speed bump. / It’s there to make you slow down’. This voices a truism about what poets do – that they stop the world in its busy tracks and make it see the blossom – and like all truths it is only half true. A more balanced view was given by Edward Clarke in his book The Vagabond Spirit of Poetry, the most perceptive and genuinely courageous piece of literary criticism published last year. ‘Slowness does not preclude swiftness’, writes Clarke, noting that ‘a great virtue of poetry is that it admits the acceleration of intuition’. Poetry, in other words, has to do with a stillness that is at the same time a quickening (just as it is equally the most ancient and the newest mode of speech, or a means to make us both more and less serious, or a way of keeping silent while talking), a hyper- or heightened awareness that is intimately connected with the poet’s strangely deliberate phrases. That cherry blossom may be motionless, but it is moving at the speed of light.

What one misses in Morrison’s verse is this alertness and exactitude, the intensity that is not only intellectual and sensual but linguistic too (what Chaucer rightly termed ‘the craft so long to lerne’). Much of the work in Shingle Street is set along the doomed Suffolk coastline near Dunwich, a region that ...


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