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

HOUSMAN COUNTRY Geoffrey Hill, Molly Holden, A.E. Housman: Three Bromsgrove Poets, with introductions by Alan Holden, edited by Robin Shaw (The Housman Society) £7.50
MICHAEL TOLKIEN, Exposures (Redbeck Press) £8.95

The first of these books celebrates the work of three poets who lived at different times in the Worcestershire town of Bromsgrove. The second, a new collection by Michael Tolkien, switches persona and location so frequently as to appear unsettled by comparison. But Three Bromsgrove Poets turns out to be far less rooted in place than its title suggests. And Exposures is more concerned to mourn than to accept the footloose condition it records.

One might expect Robin Shaw's anthology, as a publication of the Housman Society, to foreground the particular legacy of A Shropshire Lad. In a sense, this proves correct. Housman's work serves as the lens through which Molly Holden reads the landscape of her adult years. Indeed, the `Housman Country' of her eponymous poem is `the sight and then the memory / of blue-ridged hills in the West'. Elsewhere, in the Worcestershire vistas and Pisgah visions of Geoffrey Hill, the same influence is apparent.

And yet Shaw has taken steps to disrupt this comfortable lineage. Housman's work is placed last in the running order, and Hill's first. Gentle disorientation continues on the level of content with what Alan Holden identifies as the sense in Hill `of the here-and-now set against an elusive otherwhere'. The anthology deftly illustrates this point. Housman's punning reference to `the land of lost content' finds its equivalent in Hill's poignant reflection that `the heartland remains / heartless'.

In its original context, Housman's work nevertheless suggested a ...


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