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This review is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

JUST MUSCLE G.F. DUTTON, The Bare Abundance, Selected Poems 1975-2001, (Bloodaxe) £8.95

There are few superfluous props in G.F. Dutton's poems, as if he has heeded Auden's warning against entertaining the irrelevant. 'A kind of path / that won't pursue the truth / about a garden', he writes in 'Serpentine', locating instead 'an iron gate' at its end 'To go further'. Dutton's book is thus vigorously ordered in four sections, City, Sea, Forest and Rock. This works very well, careful compilation bringing rewarding seams of poems on related subjects. One can see Dutton revolving a prism, seeing things from different angles.

The title refers to how things are put into relief in a landscape with 'no flab'. Berries seem brighter against snow. A quintessence of feeling is achieved when an acquaintance is sighted in 'Violets':

standing at the gateside glad
the morning is so fine and glad
to see me on so fine a morning glad.

The spare poems resemble their setting, many of them pitting man against nature, a reflection of Dutton's 44-year 'ecological dialogue with a few rocky windblasted East Highland acres' as his biographical note has it. The scarcity of capitals means that the poems appear to have their heads down against harsh winds, like the two-foot trees in 'Tundra'. They are concentrated; few are more than a page long.

Dutton's language is precise; the 'boards bang tight underfoot' of a 'new house in the country', the two verses of 'the high flats at Craigston' resemble ...


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