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

IGNORANT PRECISION fifty fifty, edited by Charles Bainbridge, Tania Earnshaw, Selima Hill, Mimi Khalvati, Stephen Knight, Simon Smith, (London: South Bank Centre) Free

fifty fifty is an offering from the Poetry Library to celebrate its half centenary. Apart from the obvious anniversarial reference, the title of this anthology suggests a certain comme ci comme ça, or perhaps a competition - poetry versus...? Does fifty fifty imply that the poetry of the last fifty years doesn't quite make it?

The front cover and each page of the book are rubber stamped with the numerals of the years from 1953 to 2003, as if referring to the period of a library book loan. Of course this is a library book, only the Poetry Library does not want it back. The book is a birthday present for us, the readers, at no charge.

In the introduction, Simon Smith tells us that the selection board consisted of three Poetry Librarians: Bainbridge, Earnshaw, Smith, and three poets: Khalvati, Knight, Hill. Fifty fifty? Given the rarity of a collection edited by poetry librarians, it seems a pity they did not make up the whole of the board, but it is good that they had half a say. The particularity of their approach is highlighted in Smith's reference to the board as `this committee of readers', a pleasingly respectful acknowledgement of the importance, and existence, of all readers.

The structure of the book has certain parallels with Giles Goodland's millennium wheeze, in which found and chosen texts apparently summed up each year of the twentieth century in a mixture of sense, no sense, ...


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