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This review is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

REFINED SIMPLICITY WILLIAM COOKSON, Vestiges 1955-1995 (Agenda Editions/Big Little Poem Books) £6.00

This is essentially a revised edition of Cookson's previous publication of the same title and from the same publishers with some minor additions and subtle reworkings. It is the culmination of forty years worrying at these deeply felt poems.

Dream Traces, the opening sequence of thirteen short poems, some merely two or three lines, reveals how Cookson has worked to excise any word that was not essential to meaning or rhythm. The sequence originally appeared as a pamphlet in 1975, now Section III has been deleted and a new Section VII added: there are other changes, all of which are improvements. It is the same elsewhere where alterations or additions have given the work a final polish.

Thirteen poems in forty years might not seem much, although there are some contemporary poets who might like to exercise the same restraint but one does get the strong impression of Cookson's passions and ideas. The poems are in a controlled free verse reminiscent of Pound's Imagism, as one would expect from the editor of The selected Prose of Ezra Pound (Faber); with allusions and quotes from The Cantos. The joy of these poems is their basic simplicity, a simplicity that has taken many years to refine to the essential elements of an event or emotion. Although much of the book is about loss Cookson is never mawkish, nor confessional. In the sequence Spell there is something elemental, almost magical in the relationship. We learn little about the ...


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