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This review is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

OPENING UP KENNETH WHITE, Open World: The Collected Poems, 1960-2000 (Polygon) £20

Kenneth White's greatest misfortune as a writer is to have been born with the surname `White'. If he had been a McTavish his trajectory might have been very different. For one thing it would have stopped him using that word as convenient shorthand for whatever it is his poetry is about. I am not trying to be gratuitously offensive, merely to express a sense of exasperation at certain aspects of a writer's work, some of which I like and admire. If I confess to doubt regarding the subject matter of his poetry it is because it is so elusive, and this is White's difficulty as a poet. It is a difficulty also for reviewers of his work: attempts to encapsulate White's project succinctly invariably fail to do justice to its spiritual nature. Even that expression is inadequate for White wishes to induce a new harmony of mind, matter and spirit. He is after a `white world'; he wants to get into it and away out of our cluttered world of politics, culture and religion by means of a `poetic yoga' (`The Residence of Solitude and Light'). White wishes to step into an enlightened and light filled space where human beings may exist and be conscious of existing in a more natural relationship with the world, the other creatures that inhabit it, with the cosmos. His life has been about attempting to be more fully present in and to the world.

He has rejected terms such as `philosopher', ...

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