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This review is taken from PN Review 266, Volume 48 Number 6, July - August 2022.

Cover of The Problem of the Many
Ian PopleTimothy Donnelly, The Problem of the Many (Picador) £10.99
Timothy Donnelly’s first major book, The Cloud Corporation was greeted with real acclaim; feted by John Ashbery, no less, as ‘the poetry of the future, here, today’. So, The Problem of the Many has a lot to live up to. And the blurb of this edition pushes that ‘lot’ even further.  It draws the reader’s attention to the title of the book which relates to ‘the famous philosophical quandary as to what defines the larger aggregate – a cloud, a crowd – which Donnelly extends to address the subject of individual boundary, identity and belonging’. No lack of ambition there, then.  

The build of the poems lacks no ambition either. As in The Cloud Corporation, the poems usually run in long lines and long sentences across the page. So, even though the architecture of lines and line breaks often seems very carefully orchestrated, Donnelly’s voice is, by and large, expansive and loping. There are shorter poems in both books, and shorter poems with shorter lines, but that voice is carefully maintained no matter the ‘form’ of the poem itself. That form also has a trajectory that line lengthsa and stanza lengths hold with tension and intensity.  

If the title of the collection sounds a note of ambition, then the poems inside the covers do not relax that ambition. The first poem is called ‘What Is Real’, and other poems announce an equal reach: ‘The Earth Itself’, ‘The Death of Print Culture’, ‘Leviathan’, and the final poem in the book, ‘Hymn to Life’. That first poem, ‘What Is ...

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