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

SLICK AND ECLECTIC MATTHEW SWEENEY, Selected Poems (Jonathan Cape) £10.00
RUTH PADEL, Voodoo Shop (Chatto and Windus) £8.99

Beneath the profusion of magazines, workshops and readings, a certain aimlessness seems to be prevailing within the poetry of Britain and Ireland. One would have to look at least as far back as the brief, weird heyday of the so-called Martian poets in London in the 1980s, or the emergence of the often skewed centrality of voices like those of Heaney, Mahon and Muldoon in the Northern Ireland of the 1970s, to recall groups of poets who seemed capable of discovering and summarising newly vital and authoritative possibilities of style and subject. The two volumes under review here contain many enjoyable and adroit poems. But neither demonstrates the often ruthless and disorientating instinct of rejecting convenient norms and solutions that is necessary if really original and convincing work is to result. The reader is offered instead the considerable pleasures of contemporary poetry at its most slick and eclectic.

Matthew Sweeney's career, as revealed in this new selection from his volumes over the last twenty years or so, has in fact had the virtue of a certain sort of flighty consistency. The back cover of the book is headed by generous praise from Charles Simic, and it may be that a lot in it has been learned from the style of deceptive casualness that allows Simic's brand of surrealism to take on wildly disparate types of material with a relatively limited set of techniques. Sweeney's fundamental procedure is to set off representational obliquities and what are often fantastical ...


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