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

An Amulet of Words Kevin Gardner
      No amulet of words can stay
  Our tender structures from decay,
Though buds unfrosted yet by Time
 May flower precariously in rhyme.
                            (‘Painted Shells’)

An ‘amulet of words’: I can think of no phrase more aptly describing the sense of wonder, of mystery, at the heart of Peter Scupham’s imagination. Swelling with syntactical and phonic vigour, his poems assert the potency of literary language to forestall the certainty of decay. The printing press, though coldly mechanical, finds in moveable type an infinite source of vitality, hope and even magic: ‘For words – which grew from thinginess – / have cast their spells in metal dress’ (‘The Old Type Tray’). Old books wait impatiently for new readers to encounter them, so to spring back to life: ‘He can hear the pages fidget about and whisper, / stretch themselves out a little, breathe a sigh / through seas of ink and a mapped world of paper’ (‘Between the Lines’). A leaf of monastic vellum in majuscule script, though read no longer by clerics, survives in the poet’s realisation of a living past: ‘A slant-cut nib works on; the skin / Takes texture. God is woven close’ (‘Marginalia’). Words abide and poetry endures, countervailing our own demise.

Peter forges his death-defying poetry out of the revenants of the past. His poetic world is populated by ghostly presences, layers of past time interlaced with the present: ‘Ghosts are a poet’s working capital. / They hold their hands out from the further shore’ (‘Prehistories’). Weaving the past tenses of things ...

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