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This report is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

A Love of Chance Neil Powell

With writers whose lives substantially overlap our own, the random matter of when we first met each other across the page can be decisive in shaping our judgement. For instance, there's a generation of readers who, having grown up with early Auden, simply couldn't adjust to the tone and prosody of the post-1939 model; whereas those of us who came to him later on - I think his About the House (1966) was probably the first proper hardback slim volume I bought actually on publication day - may feel an affection for those lovely wry, discursive, domestic poems which will strike our elders (and our juniors) as foolishly immoderate. And so it is too with the poets who then, in the mid-1960s, were both young enough to seem within reach and old enough to have established reputations: Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn - poets a young writer might have looked upon as mentors or even heroes.

Gunn had at that time published three collections - Fighting Terms (1955), The Sense of Movement (1957) and My Sad Captains (1961) - and he also had a half- share in the little pale blue Selected Poems by Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes (1962) which, thanks to an inspired quirk of the Cambridge Examinations Syndicate, was a set text in my A Level year of 1966. `Hughes celebrates, but Gunn cerebrates' was how our main English teacher, Alan Hurd, aphoristically put it: a jokey simplification, as we could ...


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