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This review is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

WORD IMPERFECT Giving Their Word: Conversations with Contemporary Poets. Edited by Steven Ratiner (University of Massachusetts Press) £22.50

Perhaps the reader is not interested in what the poet thinks outside the writing of a poem or has had enough of modern poets who seem to speak only to themselves. Perhaps the reader is right to feel this way, and yet Giving Their Word: Conversations with Contemporary Poets proffers an interesting jumble of voices including those of Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove, Bei Dao, Marge Piercy, and John Montague. The twelve poets interviewed lend themselves to discussions that touch on politics, feminism, race, nationality, international appeal - how these topics sculpt the individual poet and how the poet sculpts them.

The editor Steven Ratiner comes to his own defence in the introduction, raising questions to illuminate his purpose in assembling such a collection:

Is the person and personality of the author completely beside the point when we are mulling over the deepest implications of a poem? Is there no expectation or emotional accumulation from a poet's previous work? Do we browse the book aisle simply by sampling poems from each text, without regard to the author's name on the dust jacket?

He poses the first two questions variously during the interviews; the answer to the third question after such thorough profiles would be `no' for anyone willing to stick with the book. On the whole, he captures a distinct personality for each and finds the weave which, overtly or covertly, meanders through the poems.

  William Stafford and Mary Oliver, ...


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