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

AEROBICS The Poet's Voice and Craft, edited by C.B. McCully (Carcanet) £12.95

The Poet's Voice and Craft transcribes a series of lectures delivered by sixteen writers who participated in the programme of the same name at the Manchester Poetry Centre. In so doing the volume shifts deftly from the spoken to the written word, 'lecture' seamlessly becoming 'essay' in C.B. McCully's measured introduction. It is tempting to see a battle ground here, democratic speech opposing the more exclusive textuality of the professional academic. Reading on, one becomes increasingly aware of the powerful dichotomy contained in the book's title. The original double-bill of reading (Voice) and analysis (Craft) is another aspect of the tacit stand-off between the rational enquiries of McCully and most of the contributors who, via a range of beguiling gymnastics, try hard not to impugn their creative instincts, to offend the muse. McCully is the patient investigator confronted with a set of singularly unco-operative star witnesses. Edwin Morgan's first reaction to guideline questions on 'Sound structure and metrics', 'Syntax' and 'Lexis' was 'I don't know… And I don't want to know!', while Alison Brackenbury continually makes nervous over-the-shoulder references to the literary 'Professionals'. Brackenbury's revealed dislike for praise of her craft highlights again the distinction between technical proficiency and the animating magic of Voice, which it would be impossible or imprudent to comment on. One notable absentee from the book's roll-call, Sorley Maclean, declined to lecture because of similar feelings. As one reads on the space where his contribution might have been gains a kind of centrality.


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