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This review is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

NICE ENOUGH PAUL FARLEY, The Ice Age (Picador) £7.99

It might have begun with Edward Thomas sitting on a train that stopped at Adlestrop but poets obviously find time to reflect while travelling, with scenery to reflect upon, and even if I've done it myself, it might be time to wonder if the technique isn't becoming a little jaded. Paul Farley not only imitates the Larkinesque 'Whitsun Weddings' journey but uses his 'postal districts' phrase, too. There's no law against it but using such a well-known phrase from a well-known poem creates echoes that can only be distracting. Sean O'Brien has spent a lot of time in poems on trains along with we lesser mortals and so Paul Farley really needs to do something special with the idea in 'From a Weekend First', 'The Glassworks' and 'A Tunnel' to make them memorable over and above the established train journeys.

The fact that he nearly does but doesn't quite convince is symptomatic of what he's all about. The Simon Armitage, intelligent, sensitive, user-friendly middlebrow generation of which he is a good, composite example is very good at what it does, but leaves one thinking that it is not providing a strong, lasting voice. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for wellobserved poems like these because there is much worse stuff on offer elsewhere.

Paul Farley has obviously read enough poetry to know what he is doing and incorporates his ability to find an impressive telling line on a regular basis. He has developed a style ...


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