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This review is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

Cover of The Disguise, Poems 1977–2001
Edmund PrestwichCharles Boyle, The Disguise, Poems 1977–2001, selected by Christopher Reid (Carcanet) £12.99; The Late Sun, Christopher Reid (Faber) £14.99
The Disguise is a selection from the six volumes Charles Boyle published between 1977 and 2001, when he apparently stopped writing poetry. As he puts it in the Author’s Note, ‘I was writing poems I had already written, so I got off the bike.’

You can’t argue with a decision like that but you can regret it. The poems Christopher Reid has selected are remarkably good.

‘Moving In’, the first poem from Boyle’s first book, opens arrestingly, ‘The shape of the key is still strange in my hand.’ Its abrupt, luminous particularity is typical of Boyle’s style. So is the sense of the speaker’s alienation from what he sees and even from the person he addresses. He speaks to someone who seems to be a partner but she seems almost as strange to him as the house they’re moving into, that they ‘wander through, touching dust, pausing / to look, to listen, to watch each other’s faces.’ Poems from the first three books are indeed largely set abroad but the sense of estrangement seems to reflect something fundamental to the poet’s way of seeing the world. The fourth poem, ‘Alex in February’, ends ‘Exile’s a disease. We catch it being born’. One way in which Boyle develops is that estrangement becomes more radical and more obviously a stylistic choice.

A delightful early poem like ‘Shy Mountain Children’ gets its life from the sensation that although there’s an unbridgeable gap between the speaker and his companion, on the one hand, and the children on ...

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