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

WORTH THE RECORD The Collected Poems of Roland Mathias, compiled and edited by Sam Adams, (University of Wales Press) £30.00
JEREMY HOOKER, Adamah (Enitharmon) £8.95

In 1970 Roland Mathias contributed a poem called `Not Worth the Record' to the Welsh Arts Council's `Dial-a-poem' service. `What callers made of it is' - as Sam Adams, painstaking and sympathetic editor of Mathias's Collected Poems, comments - `difficult to imagine. Texture and linguistic compaction are not', he considers, `the problems; rather, it challenges listeners because it addresses them directly and demands their own moral and intellectual response.' In fact the poem, a typical product of Mathias's maturity, seems to me to offer a fair amount of `linguistic compaction' for something intended to be digested at first hearing. `What is it that you expect, caller?' asks the poet, proceeding to present himself as

                             a failure in such sort
That all despair can use
Is the name, the notion of it, not
The feel, the pump of the gland,
The genital misdirection
Of fond secretions or the glass
Up, scrawny finger-held, aerating
The idioms of the blood.

In the second, subtly balancing, free-form stanza he confesses failure both to resist the lure of evil and to submit to it, implicitly identifying with the biblical figure of Samson - `Hard by the pillar/I willed down evil and my hand/pulled back' - leading to a conclusion characteristically enigmatic and unconsoling.

No, Mathias is not an easy or ingratiating poet. The appeal of his verse lies precisely in its strenuous and uncompromising character; the exhaustiveness and intensity ...


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