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This article is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Googling Prynne James Keery
The Oval Window: A New Annotated Edition, J.H. Prynne
eds. N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge (Bloodaxe) £12

THE NEW BLOODAXE EDITION of The Oval Window by J.H. Prynne is an illustrated, annotated reprint. The first edition (‘Cambridge, 1983’) was privately printed for the poet in Saffron Walden and distributed by Duck Soup, a bookshop run by Nick Kimberley, veteran of the celebrated counter-culture institutions, Compendium and Indica, and editor in the late sixties of Big Venus, a short-lived magazine which printed Andrew Crozier, Allen Fisher and Lee Harwood, alongside Ashbery and other Americans. The covers of the 1983 edition unfold into a photograph of a stone wall with ‘a rough opening’, whited out to frame the only text:

‘THE OVAL WINDOW / J.H. Prynne’.

A parallelogram with concavities at right and left, its shape, as Ian Patterson pointed out years ago, isn’t even approximately oval.

It is not the only puzzling opening, as Richard Kerridge acknowledges: ‘If we are looking for conventional linear sense, the opening lines are disconcerting’ – perhaps an understatement:

The shut inch lively as pin grafting
leads back to the gift shop, at a loss

for two-ply particles

set callow,
set bland and clean, wailing as when

to wait is block for scatter.

Two obscure entities are compared; one ‘leads’ us, if only ‘back’, then leaves us ‘at a loss’ – after two lines. Who or what is ‘wailing’? How helpful is ...

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