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

CONTINUOUS SONG LAURA RIDING, A Selection of the Poems, edited by Robert Nye (Carcanet) £9.95
JOHN ASHBERY, And the Stars Were Shining, (Carcanet) £8.95

Robert Nye is not one of those discreet editors offering his literary goodies with a muted inaugural clearing of the throat, like some literary butler, but rather an intense and passionate lover celebrating a life-long affair with the poetry he has selected. 'I have included only those poems which I find I know by heart,' he tells us, in case we're nevertheless inclined to diagnose him as

merely engagé when he is of course obsedé. There must be almost a hundred of them. Still, as with other editors before him, the reductiveness of the process instills unease. 'Her poems,' he claims, 'are one poem, and they ought to be read whole.'

Probably the same can be said of the work of the most lyrical poets (longer poems are a different matter, since they have time to develop their own narrative imperatives): rightly or wrongly one refers them back to one's sense of the life that lies behind them. From another point of view, however, and maybe a more elevated - certainly a more aesthetic - one, Poe's remarks in 'The Philosophy of Composition' on 'unity of impression' are suggestive: 'if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed.' The subtext here, one I suspect Riding would endorse, is that the poem, while not absolutely independent of the affairs of the world, is at a problematic distance from them: 'Between the word and the world lie/Fading ...


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