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This review is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

A DICTIONARY OF WINGS RODNEY PYBUS, Flying Blues (Carcanet) £9.95
The catch and the ways of catching are diverse -Keith Douglas, 'Words'

Confronted with the natural world, Pybus's speakers - travellers, poets, lepidopterists, ornithologists - confront also the need for new vocabularies and new concordances with which to 'capture', 'translate' or 'pin down' its variegations. The opening poem, 'The Blues Have Wings', homes in on a shared difficulty expressed by all the voices in this collection:


            I want like

The twenty-four words for
sadness known to la belle turque
at least a hundred

for all the tones of leaves
and fern and grass
the pine and beech and variegations

of astonishment


'Poetry, that snatch at the real', writes Pybus 'is what leaches out/when you translate Blue Butterfly/into English', and this remarkable collection explores thematically and strives to make good that shortfall. For Wallace Stevens the difficulty was to convey 'the eye's plain version'; for Keith Douglas 'the catch and the ways of catching are diverse'. Flying Blues works through all the valences and half-tints of 'catching' in its efforts to convey the transient spectacular: 'netting' and 'pinning down' butterflies, 'capturing' the landscape, culminating in the English accountant Maurice trying, in 'Words of a Feather', to find words to describe the natural riches of Mauritius. It is the desire to possess, to 'fix', that Pybus explores in the confrontations he engineers between the delicate flying creatures and their observers, or between sensations and the language that can never transcribe them without loss. If the ...


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