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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

WAITING FOR GOD R.S. THOMAS, Residues (Bloodaxe) £7.95

Although an uninviting introduction to his last poems, R.S. Thomas's suggestion of the title Residues was a pertinent comment on their thematic significance within his work. His Collected Poems 1945-1990, presented as an uninterrupted text, foregrounded his provocative use of repetition, and Residues has a similar effect. Bloodaxe's comment that these `pared down' poems mark `further refinement of his technique' is justified. Gone are the multi-narrative pieces and unsatisfying experiments in writing about paintings; Residues lays bare the essential themes that resided in Thomas's work, unresolved to the end.

Thomas instructed his literary executor Professor M. Wynn Thomas (no relation) to publish only poems `that were perfectly sound in quality', and though intrigue surrounds `the few that were not', the editor honours Thomas's intention to the point of expanding his scope of repetition by including several poems from the last file that appeared almost identical in earlier collections; `Vocabulary' originates from Destinations (1985) and resurfaces with two semi-colons replaced by commas. He maintains equal integrity in sequencing the poems, reproducing them `in the order, haphazard or otherwise', of their filing. Thus, while the penultimate `Don't ask me...' could have neatly concluded Thomas's work with a shimmering sequence of epigrammatic definitions of poetry, the rougher `Greatest language...' (although something of a residue itself after its stunning predecessor) more aptly sustains the spirit of Thomas's work, leaving us questioning the values of an age in which `vocabulary... is thrown away / when it no longer earns its keep / ...


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