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

CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED POET ROBERT CRAWFORD, The Modern Poet - Poetry, Academia and Knowledge since the 1750s (Oxford University Press) £40.00

As Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at St Andrews University, and prominent poet, Robert Crawford is intimate with the three elements of his subtitle, and naturally concerned to argue that their interconnection has both pedigree and creative significance. His historical perspective is familiar from his pioneering studies Devolving Scottish Literature and The Scottish Invention of English Literature: that is, that the study of English Literature as an academic discipline was begun and shaped in Scotland, and that it was hallmarked by the emergence of Ossian. Here Crawford suggests that Robert Fergusson was the first important poet to study English poetry as part of his university course, a poet who chose to write in Scots and who lambasted his St Andrews teachers for their pompous Latin preferences. This 'uncomfortable, scratchy relationship' between poets and academics persists; Les Murray (a familiar Crawford compass point) and Dana Goia are quoted on the subject of the tight circle created by academic poets and their academic audiences, to the exclusion of that elusive but desirable general reader of poetry.

This book, Crawford states boldly, is intended to appeal to just such readers, outside as much as inside academia. He holds true to his aim of writing in plain English; where theoretical approaches are taken, they are clearly explained. So in principle, The Modern Poet could be read by any intelligent reader of poetry. Yet as his own attention to eighteenth- and nineteenth- century publishing practice shows, the way a book is packaged ...

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