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This review is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

SERIOUS AND ABSURD RALPH HAWKINS, The Moon, the Chief Hairdresser (highlights) (Shearsman) £8.95 / $13.95
COLIN SIMMS, Otters and Martens (Shearsman) £9.95 / $15.95

These are two poets for whom the standard received model of the successful poem (the poem, say, which will win a competition) means nothing. Hawkins defies it in every detail; Simms is totally uninterested in its existence.

Hawkins is a very literary poet, very aware of the written artefact as something with a long history and a mass of material accrued to it, and determined to re-invent the whole thing. To him the poem is in no way descriptive or reflective of self or world, but a thing entirely under its own power, a dynamic theatre which creates its own reality: 'everything the poet fakes is real'. This is a venerable belief, but with Hawkins it is only the beginning - the poem has to renew that independence to the last detail, and all forms of recognition are shattered. Syntax alone remains intact, in its usual guiding, even chatty, mode, but guides the reader only into mazes of inconsequence. Anywhere you might be is whipped away from under you; anything you might identify becomes something else.

This is perhaps post-surrealism. It is anyway a dazzlingly virtuosic performance, a constant transgression of all stylistic and conceptual categories, and an utter conflation of the serious and the absurd. At times you feel Hawkins has invented a new genre of 'daft poetry' - how else account for lines such as 'Homer went to Paris 1867 / Nebraska also 1867' or 'did you live in Bolivia / was Olive ...


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