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This article is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

'The Burning Baby' and the Bathwater James Keery

1: The Punch-Drunk Apocalypse

Writing in the early 1980s, Andrew Crozier could observe with literal truth that `The term "Apocalyptic", broadly used to refer to the poets influenced by [Dylan] Thomas, now has exclusively pejorative overtones'.1 In fact, twenty years earlier, this appears already to have been the case. A.T. Tolley makes the point in his preface to The Poetry of the Forties:2

In the first issue of Ian Hamilton's The Review, in 1962, two reviewers use the term `Apocalyptic' with the assured sense that it will not only be recognised as a reference to a poetic movement of the forties, but will also, without further ado, be taken as a term of abuse.

Ian Hamilton begins his 1964 article on `The Forties', reprinted in A Poetry Chronicle, with `the routine summary of the period':3

`It is impossible to indict a whole poetic decade', wrote Kenneth Allott in 1948, but he was surely wrong. The decade in which he wrote this, the now notorious forties, has been thoroughly written-off in most contemporary pigeon-holings. It has popularly become the decade dominated by the punch-drunk Apocalypse, the foaming horsemen, and - as John Wain has diagnosed it - by a wartime hysteria which could only have produced such rubbish ...

A neat account of the double bluff, familiar since the 1950s heyday of the Movement, whereby the Apocalypse can be identified with `a whole poetic decade', ...


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