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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Transactions and Touchstones
Peter Scupham’s Sequences
Lawrence Sail
For Peter Scupham the sequence has long been an instrument of choice on which to sound his central preoccupations – childhood, the two World Wars, the natural world, and English literature and history: subjects seen variously through the prisms of family, autobiography and an acute sensibility finely attuned to detail and atmosphere. Every one of his collections contains one or more sequences, with the rule-proving exception of his very first collection, The Small Containers (1972), whose very title might be thought to militate against the sequence’s expansionist nature. But from The Snowing Globe (also 1972) onwards, sequences are a consistent feature of the work, and it could be argued that an apogee of a kind is reached in The Air Show (1988), with the whole collection set in what the opening poem describes simply as ‘the land of was’.

In a number of instances the sequences complement one another, or one starts by continuing a narrative that was the ending of another. Thus ‘Playtime in a Cold City’ with its subtitle, ‘Emmanuel College, Cambridge. 1954-1957’ (in Borrowed Landscapes, 2011) takes up where ‘Conscriptions: National Service 1952–4’ (Winter Quarters, 1987) left off; and ‘Conscriptions’ is itself shadowed by ‘The Northern Line’, with its sub-title ‘End of Leave, 1950s’, published in Night Watch, twelve years later. Also in Winter Quarters, ‘Notes from a War Diary (HJB 1918-19)’, which draws on his father-in-law’s experience of the war, finds a sequel in ‘A Civil War’ (Borrowed Landscapes). Some of the sequences have in common a dominant formal structure, notably the title ...


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