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This article is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

The Personal Art Peter Robinson

Où sontdes morts les phrases jamilières,
L 'art personnel, les âmes singulières?

These ubi sunt lines from Paul Valéry's 'Le Cimitière Marin' ponder the fate of homely phrases once used by the dead, their personal gift, their individual souls. I have taken literally the second of his three terms as a title for this brief essay about poems in relation to privacy and the marketplace. Let me introduce the issues with a seemingly trivial example. My second book, This Other Life (1988), contains a poem about setting off to visit a friend in hospital and failing to reach her before visiting hours ended thanks to a rain storm. 'Depending on the Weather' first appeared in a magazine with a slightly different opening to its fourth verse. 'Ten years on now, you have had two children./complications' is a revision of 'you have had two hernias.!And children'. The later version is a improvement, I hope you'll agree, and the poem's dedicatee was not sorry to see the disappearance of that word 'hernias'.

It was not I'm afraid, in consideration of her sensitivities that I made the alterations, but rather in response to my publisher, Michael Schmidt's. The clumsy end-stopped line of the earlier effort and its gratuitously reversing the sequence of my friend's bodily pains, are good enough reason for the change. However, if Schmidt also objected to my poor technique, he chose nevertheless to express his criticism as a consideration for the reader's imaginative and ...

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