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

HAUNTED SELF GEORGE MACBETH, Selected Poems (Enitharmon) £8.95
U.A. FANTHORPE, Christmas Poems (Enitharmon/Peterloo) £7.95

Popular and widely-published during his lifetime, George MacBeth (1932-92) is now, according to the publishers of this Selected Poems, `in danger of being forgotten'. The present selection of his work - judiciously drawn by Anthony Thwaite from over twenty books of poems - represents an attempt to secure a lasting readership for MacBeth. It excludes the `performance' poems for which MacBeth was well known during the 1960s and 1970s along with material from lengthy sequences such as A War Quartet (1969) and The Cleaver Garden (1986).

The majority of MacBeth's poems are shaped - directly or indirectly - by the early experience of losing his parents (MacBeth was nine when his father was killed in an air raid and ten years later lost his mother to liver disease). The poems are full of the psychological damage that war leaves behind. MacBeth returns repeatedly to explorations of violence and cruelty, game-playing (the pitfalls of chance), lost innocence, guilt, the `price' of love and so forth. An early poem like `The Drawer' catalogues what remains of his parents' belongings, endowing them with personal symbolism so that they function as artefacts:

My father's were in an envelope:
A khaki lanyard, crushed handkerchief,
Twelve cigarettes, a copying pencil,
All he had on him when he was killed
Or all my mother wanted to keep.

The pain of loss also accounts, perhaps, for a number of poems which demonstrate a tenderness for ...


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