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

FAINT ROAR RICHARD KELL, Collected Poems (Lagan Press)

Richard Kell precedes his collection's endnotes with a couple of introductory sentences: 'It was hard to know how much to give. Some readers may know A but not B, others B but not A. These pages are not for those who know both!' The difficulty of knowing 'how much to give' could apply equally to the project of collecting your poems.

Kell decided on a lifetime volume of poetry, including all of his five individual volumes; and not apparently being clear on how much to give, he also added some 'uncollected poems', confusingly dated 1947-1983 (the volume announces its starting point as 1962; and are there no uncollected poems after 1983?). Even more odd, he (or Lagan Press) decided to include a short essay he published in 1995 in this magazine, 'The Poem and the World'. Stuck at the back of the book with the notes, and no notation of either in the contents at the beginning of the book, it is hard not to imagine a last-minute rush to include everything the poet and the publisher could find.

Knowing how much to give has a resonance not simply in the construction of this volume but also in the quality of the poetry which is included. This book is characterised, perhaps more than many other collections, by an unevenness of style and of tone - and I mean this both positively and negatively. On the one hand, Kell is an adept technician, turning his hand ...


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