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This review is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

AT HALF-COCK ANDREW MOTION, The Price of Everything, (Faber), £6.99
STEPHEN SPENDER, Dolphins, (Faber), £5.99
VERNON SCANNELL, Collected Poems 1950-1993, (Robson Books), £14.95

Andrew Motion's title is Wilde's epigram from Lady Windennere's Fan at half-cock: 'Cecil Graham: What is a cynic?/Lord Darlington: A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.' Motion is no cynic but he is in low spirits, and The Price of Everything displays his ability to respond to unpleasant facts with pellucid and melancholy verse. The collection consists of two long narrative sequences, 'Lines of Desire' and 'Joe Soap' and opens with the poem 'Dedication', which details an unprovoked violent attack on the narrator in a street near his home, establishing the collection's themes of vulnerability and despair:

In broad daylight and a familiar street -
the sort where gossips dawdle and nose-
  to-tail dogs meet -

some bastard with no face lurched out
  from behind a tree
and tried to kill me.


In 'Lines of Desire' Motion uses dream-logic to weave a tale combining descriptive accounts of the First World War, apparently autobiographical details about his relationship with his father and the war experiences of Edward Thomas. Motion's combination of speech rhythms with various verse forms and his gawky Georgian diction are reminiscent of Thomas; indeed, 'Joe Soap', the more successful of the two sequences, is really Motion's 'Lob'. 'Joe Soap' describes the adventures of a metamorphosing Everyman who lives and dies and is reborn during the course of the twentieth century - blown to pieces in the First World War he/she returns ...


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