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This article is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

The Precise and the Mysterious Robert Wells

In a notebook entry Paul Valéry distinguishes between two schools and kinds of poetry: `Tout dire (en vers)' and `Ne rien dire qui ne soit vers'. His exemplar of the first school is Victor Hugo, and of the second, Mallarmé; the fecundity of the one and the sterility of the other are both seen as essential to their method, and both characteristics are admirable. There are poets to whom this distinction hardly applies, or can't be pressed very far. But Peter Scupham's Collected Poems places him clearly in the first school. Scupham has written a lot and his poems are themselves of an inclusive kind. The Collected Poems comprises eleven volumes of verse. A couple of early poems have been added and a few rearranged. The single new poem, which opens the book, is of extreme beauty. Where there is some writing of this quality, there is always more. Fine poems, as well as fine lines and passages, are to be found, at every stage, scattered through the book. This means that, having responded once, the reader reads expectantly.

An early poem, a sonnet in couplets about his daughter drawing on a blackboard, might stand as a neat fable of preoccupations constantly present in Scupham's work:

Four Fish

Gay chalks and a blackboard. Watch Kate trace
Four fish. They hover softly in dark space,

Warming the kitchen by their tranquil glow
Infallible, heraldic. Pictures flow

With ...

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