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PN Review New Issue

This review is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

TIMES AND THE GARDEN Poetry with an Edge, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe) £8.95
New Poetries, edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet) £8.95
Sixty Women Poets, edited by Linda France (Bloodaxe) £8.95
Dream State, edited by Daniel O'Rourke (Polygon) £10.95
Mungo's Tongues, edited by Hamish Whyte (Mainstream) £9.99
The Oxford Book of Garden Verse, edited by John Dixon Hunt (Oxford University Press) £17.95

The revised edition of Poetry with an Edge, even if not consciously intended to compensate for the disappointment of The New Poetry, is a more coherent book than its much-discussed stablemate: as a sampler for the Bloodaxe list, it serves a practical, clearly focused and perfectly honourable purpose. Its team, nevertheless, has its share of transfers and substitutions: Simon Armitage, for instance, having gone off to play for Faber, is not merely kicked out but expunged from the record, like some disgraced hero in a totalitarian state: while R.S. Thomas is (as it were) brought out of retirement to head the team, oddly represented by poems taken from Selected Poems 1946-1968 (which seems to be a way of not stating that they are also in his 1993 Collected Poems, published by Dent) rather than from his recent Bloodaxe books.

In an uneasy Introduction, Neil Astley lobs unguided missiles at the metropolitan Oxbridge-academic conspiracy which once prevented poetry from being accessible to uninformed readers like, well, the young Neil Astley. His assumption that 'academic' means 'wooden' seems particularly wrongheaded: Donald Davie's prose-style, or Frank Kermode's, is sharper and livelier than Astley's. Equally, it's clear that difficult poems (some of them published by Bloodaxe) may quite properly prompt critical analysis of some complexity. The populist/accessible stance quickly reaches a point of petard-hoisted absurdity when it denies the validity of any discourse which might intelligently evaluate - and even praise! - the poems it seeks to promote. Here, these turn ...

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