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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

THE PRODIGAL POET Roy Campbell: Selected Poems, edited and introduced by Joseph Pearce (The Saint Austin Press) £9.95

This is the fifth Selected Poems of Roy Campbell since his death in a car accident in Spain in 1957. In his Introduction - too brief at eleven pages - Pearce mentions Campbell's 'prodigious if sometimes prodigal talent'. Both epithets are true, and if the 'prodigal' also recalls the son in the parable, it helps to emphasise Campbell's feeling of uncertainty in his relationships with his father, who was prominent in the development of Durban, and with his two older brothers, who served in the Royal Flying Corps. Campbell's more literary interests created within him an insecurity from which sprang his need to prove himself to his family, and throughout his life, to himself.

Eager, therefore, to fight in the First World War, and to win this dual approval, he attempted to travel to England, but he was only fifteen, and was stopped. In 1918, he did manage to leave South Africa, about which he was developing prophetic anxieties, and sailed to England. This pattern of restlessness lasted a lifetime. Pearce suggests the division of Campbell's poetic work into sections that relate to Campbell's homes, in Africa, England, Provençe, Spain, and London. These are generalisations, and should include Portugal, where he was building a home on the hills outside Sintra when he died, but they are helpful markers to a poet whose work was strongly influenced by the countries in which he lived. Pearce includes several translations. He makes, though, no comment about how Campbell's astonishing freedom ...


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