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Monthly Carcanet Books

This review is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

UNLIKELY HISTORIAN FRANK KUPPNER, Second Best Moments in Chinese History (Carcanet) £8.95

In case readers think the Scottish poet Frank Kuppner's latest book, Second Best Moments in Chinese History, is a revision of or reversion to his debut volume, A Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty (1984), he provides a disclaimer: 'Please note that this is a completely different work, although it is formally identical and very similar in its preoccupations'. Readers familiar with Kuppner's sleights-of-tongue and affinity for contradiction will recognise his characteristically cagey tone when discussing his own writing. Second Best Moments in Chinese History, like its doppelgänger, is a long poem of 501 quatrains; but it is his least absurd and most straightforward book yet, revealing an older, more serious Kuppner at work.

Kuppner once said, 'The important thing is to develop the ability to write literature, and then to write something else'. By continually pursuing that 'something else', he has produced half a dozen books that evade classification; neither lyric nor narrative, tragedy nor comedy, epic nor epigram, verse nor prose - yet somehow all of these - they elude genre. Like his acknowledged influences - Pound, MacDiarmid, Lautréamont, and Rimbaud - Kuppner engages in capacious reveries and associations operating at innumerable registers. He is capable of well-wrought lyrical passages and bad jokes, profound insights and schoolboy voyeurism, solipsism and generosity, tenderness and misogyny. His long, quirky, unpredictable, and sometimes offensive poems demand patience, but also have made him one of the most fascinating poets writing in English today, with each book contributing to an ...


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