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

METAPHYSICS IN NEW JERSEY STEPHEN DUNN, Different Hours (W.W. Norton) $12.00

For poets, crossing the Atlantic is a somewhat serendipitous business. Of the handful who make it across there are few who don't deserve to have done so. None the less, there are fine poets, both British and American, who conspicuously fail to make the crossing at all, or else do so unaccountably late. Stephen Dunn, now aged sixty, is a case in point. Different Hours, his eleventh book of poetry, is a Pulitzer Prize-winner, yet up to now Dunn has scarcely been a name this side of the Atlantic. It remains to be seen whether this is simply an accident of publishers and publicity, or whether there is a basic difference of poetic taste at issue.

This is, undoubtedly, a very accomplished collection: the style is laid-back, conversational in tone, and Dunn achieves the effect of making the writing of poetry seem easy and natural. The persona he projects is very much that of l'homme moyen sensuel, a family man, with something of an addiction to baseball and gaming, observing the great events of the world from a distance, continually being surprised by other people, and - above all - by himself.

The style, indeed, seems so naturally attuned to that persona (itself something of a feat of art) that poetic influence is hard to discern. Surely there is a tone caught from Robert Frost in 'Rubbing' - 'But few things human can stand/to be rubbed for long - I know this/and can't stop. If ...


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