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This review is taken from PN Review 99, Volume 21 Number 1, September - October 1994.

NORTHERN LINES W.N. HERBERT: Forked Tongue, (Bloodaxe Books) £7.95
W.N. HERBERT: The Testament of the Reverend Thomas Dick, (Arc Publications) £7.95
MICHAEL FOLEY: Insomnia in the Afternoon, (Blackstaff Press) £5.95
GEORGE CHARLTON: City of Dog, (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95

With a sudden headlong rush into publication that would have made even MacDiarmid blush, there appear simultaneously two collections from W.N. Herbert from two different publishers - a veritable embarrassment of riches. Bloodaxe's Forked Tongue gathers together previously unpublished work from the young Dundonian with scattered bits and pieces from over ten years of his earlier work, collected from anthologies and pamphlets and the like, in what amounts to a first major collection. At £7.95, 128 pages and in two languages, English and Scots, it is not only good value but an essential and serious piece of poetic invention and polemic. For the non-Scottish reader, trying the Scots sections - 'The Landfish' and 'Omnegaddrums' - is rather like biting into a pie and finding that it's crust all the way through ('Deid thrappils a fehv irises/still rax fur licht's yill', from 'Two Lyrics'); the poems resist easy digestion and Southern palates. Not that they're all about big yins with their bunnets and their pieceboxs drinking pints of heavy. On the contrary, Herbert is a fine, finessing, even finical writer, emphatic in his politics, ambitious in his themes, writing a language deliberately obsessed with its own history, rectitude and profuseness, a language ranging from the buttered Scotch to the gutter Scots. Herbert's affinities are modernist, postmodernist, American and European, and in the Scots poems his compositional methods inevitably recall MacDiarmid's methods which, according to Herbert (in his 1992 circumnavigation To Circumjack MacDiannid) 'arose from a delight in the baroque configurations ...


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