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This review is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

THE REAL UNABSTRACT SNOW W.S. GRAHAM, Selected Poems (Faber & Faber) £9.99

W.S. GRAHAM's late poems, written a long way from Paris (in a cottage in the far west of Cornwall) and no doubt independently of critical developments there, are preoccupied with a theme that was receiving attention in French literary theory at about the same time, that of the author's absence from the text he or she creates. For Roland Barthes, 'the Death of the Author' is the dissolution of an oppressive myth and the empowerment of the reader. Graham, on the other hand, might be said to take the phrase personally, and to consider himself bereaved of himself. As he wrote in the important late poem 'Implements in Their Places':
 

… what is the good
Of me isolating my few words
In a certain order to send them
Out in a suicide torpedo to hit?
I ride it. I will never know.
                     (Collected Poems, p. 244)


The author must die for the text to live. But Graham is unwilling to let go - or so the poems tell us. At the same time, they remind us that he has already let go, that what appears to be his voice is only the impersonal subject of the text.

Whatever the philosophical implications of this theme may be, it is a practical problem that every professional writer has to face. The author hands over the text to its unknown readers by way of the uncertain ...


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