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This review is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Cover of The Oval Window: a new annotated edition
Hal CoaseContexts

J.H. Prynne, The Oval Window: a new annotated edition (Bloodaxe) £12
    So what you do is enslaved non-stop
    to perdition of sense by leakage
           into the cycle


The Oval Window is an event. It has the feel of a controlled implosion. As with all of J.H. Prynne’s work, it forces you across a lexical ‘field’ that is explicitly a place of both sustenance and destruction, in which collocation is replaced by confrontation and sense leaks out of sensations. I say ‘it forces you’ because reading Prynne can be, in the first instance, a solitary struggle, often inimical to discussion or explanation and certainly brooking no paraphrase.

That N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge understand this goes a long way to explaining just how welcome, and peculiarly welcoming, this new edition of the poem is. It includes an essay from each of them, as well as an annotated text and Prynne’s own photographs of Tinkler Crags where the poem was partly composed (one is recognisable as the cover of the original 1983 edition). The whole reads as a significant new addition to Prynne’s publication history, if only because its thoughtful structure shows how rigorous exegesis can remain unfussy and unobtrusive.

In their earlier co-authored study of Prynne, Nearly Too Much: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne (1995), Reeve and Kerridge combined a seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of the poetry and its contexts with recognition of just how exhausting reading the poems can be. The new essays, which bookend the poem itself, possess a similar clear-sightedness about the limits of interpretative frameworks and an openness to ambivalence that ...


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