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This review is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

AGAINST OCCASION TED HUGHES, New Selected Poems 1957-1994 (Faber) £14.99 (paperback, £7.99)

There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -


Ted Hughes' New Selected Poems comes at a time when finally the biographical warfare and myth-making surrounding his early career seem to have ebbed. Replacing the Selected Poems 1957-1981, it contains larger selections from the same period, children's verse, more recent books and uncollected poems from each decade. This volume retraces the trajectory of a poet who has maintained a clarity of voice and an honesty to language which outlasted all the trends of its reception.

One of the more notable inclusions is the twenty uncollected poems which conclude the book. These contain a number of 'occasioned poems', and pen-portraits which mark a departure for Hughes. These emerged from an attempt to write an 'autobiography', the results of which he claims to have been amazed by [Radio 4 reading, April]. The opening poem, 'The Earthenware Head', goes back as far as his marriage to Sylvia Plath. With it Hughes breaks the taboo of specific reference to her in his poetry. Within the poem, a terracotta model of Plath's head becomes a metaphor for both her state of mind and critical legacy. Uneasy with it, both Hughes and Plath fear the fragility of its testimony to the point where it acquires its own identity. The unfolding narrative describes how the couple disposed of the disturbing object, leaving it wedged in the crotch of a tree beside the river Cam. Weeks later ...


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