PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing ‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
(PN Review 236)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Jamie OsbornIn conversation with Sasha Dugdale
(PN Review 240)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Oxford University Press
Gratis Ad 1
Next Issue Kei Miller on poetry and volume control Parwana Fayyaz's Afghan poems Gabriel Josipovici bids farewell to Aharon Appelfeld Craig Raine plants a flag A.R. Ammons from two angles

This review is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Cover of Poems Without Irony
Peter ScuphamThe Ghost in the Machine Alex Wong
Poems Without Irony
Carcanet, 2016 (£9.99)

This extraordinary, exhilarating and teasingly idiosyncratic first collection comes with a pleasant series of concealed and overt injunctions. The cover, in Stygian black, offers us Pierrot, gazing impassively at us from beneath his slightly uncanonical dunce’s cap. Learning from the blurb that Alex Wong, critic and poet, ‘studied and now teaches English Literature’ at Cambridge for his sins, may we assume that the photograph was taken during one of those faculty fêtes champêtres or Harlequinades so delightfully presided over by Dr Leavis in my time? I am glad they continue. The title of the book, Poems Without Irony, acts as a kind of jump-lead or health warning. Dr Alex Wong, in an article centred on Donald Davie’s concept of strategic irony for  Fortnightly Review (March 2015), has made a complex and intriguing assault on that irony which involves complicity between writer and reader at the expense of the poem; an assault, too, on the undressed poem of apparently overt and naked feeling, the in-your-face bludgeoning with a death or a daffodil which sets out to elicit and share an emotional truth, more human and more important than those exigencies proper to its construction. To steer a poem to safety, avoiding both whirlpool and rock, his tentative conclusions are that ‘intelligence with regard to form’ is a sine qua non, and that ‘affectation and artfulness, which are usually taken for bad qualities, are in another sense fundamental elements of poetry’. Before we dance on the pins of explicit and implicit irony, ‘sez-you’ and cosmic laughter, we learn we can trust ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image