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

THESE TWENTIETH-CENTURY BLUES KEN SMITH, Tender to the Queen of Night, (Bloodaxe) £6.95
ALAN WALL, Jacob, (Bellew) £12.95
SUE STEWART, Inventing the Fishes, (Anvil Press) £7.95
NEIL CURRY, The Bending of the Bow, (Anvil Press) £7.95

Ken Smith is concerned to make poetry out of the overheard, the accidental, the detritus of life, aware as Yeats was that 'A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street' is where poetry must start. Yet unlike Yeats he is not concerned to impose coherence on such found materials where no prior coherence is apparent. Rather, he is alternately elegist for an order that no longer obtains, that in certain respects never obtained, and an exuberant comedian among the ruins. He is also, as traveller on what in the Cold war era was clearly demarcated ground, and editor of the recent anthology Klaonica: Poems for Bosnia, aware that there is no easy way for a poet adequately to respond to massacres and genocidal hatred. The poets of eastern Europe had, of course, ineluctably, a head start in such matters: Rózewicz's 'poetry of absolute transparency', Miroslav Holub's 'poetry stripped of words' and Herbert's poems written as if without the authority of a native tongue all hold to a desperate intellectual control where other resources are lacking. Ken Smith, in the present collection, responds too quickly to a world of chaos with such bathetic notes as 'So now what, mon ami, now the planet's broken/and the People's Republic of Paradise kaput … ' or else with an attempt at inspiring laughter which all too often falls flat. His 'Lovesong to Kate Adie' is a uniquely embarrassing performance. His would-be hilarious 'Chicken Variations' merely states the obvious at somewhat tedious ...


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