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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

BLOOD RED PHILIP GROSS, J.D., (Faber) £6.99
DAVID CONSTANTINE, Caspar Hauser, (Bloodaxe) £6.95
JAMES SIMMONS, Mainstream, (Salmon Poetry) £7.99
PETER LEVI, The Rags of Time, (Anvil) £7.95

It is not unusual for a poet to suffer from an identity crisis, although Philip Gross isn't so much quarrelling with himself as searching for what that self might actually be. From the outset his new collection J.D. confesses a love of clues - the opening poem 'Fillings' is candid in its fasdnation with pawprints in the snow, the sketched outline of the murdered man's body. Read on and the succeeding poems are adept in their deployment of hints at some central mystery. It does not necessarily matter what that mystery might be, the energy of each piece tends to lie in the fecundity and ingenuity of its suggestions. Towards the end, though, one comes up against the elusive self of the title poem, prowling behind bars and between lines, sinisterly all-knowing, with its final thrilling injunction of 'Let it in' strangely reminiscent of Lawrence in 'Song of a Man Who Has Come Through'. Surely this is what we have been searching for?

Part of the sense of relief that accompanies this poem stems from the fact that many of its predecessors seem to be orbiting beguilingly around a hollow core. Gross is an undeniably talented writer, but too often content to expend his gifts on very slight subject matter, relying on linguistic dexterity to see him through, like the beautiful manners of some fallen aristocrat. I am not sorry to have spent a few minutes reading a descriptive piece like 'Walkman', but can't imagine ever finding ...


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