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This review is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.

PURITY OF INTENT R.S. THOMAS, Collected Later Poems: 1988-2000 (Bloodaxe) £9.95
Echoes to the Amen: Essays After R.S. Thomas, edited by Damian Walford Davies (University of Wales Press) £19.99

Reading R.S. Thomas's poems at length recently, I was haunted by an indefinable sense of familiarity. Where else had I met that curmudgeonly purity of intent, that readiness to say, and to confront, over and over again, the uncomfortable and unpopular? That sense of poems unstoppably written, of a daily productivity so copious that even the huge number published could be only a selection from a greater flow? That lithe syntax twisting and sliding through a lightly-steered free verse that endlessly tempted one on to unexpected, slantwise conclusions? That curiously flat tone, somehow rendering the reading of the poems peculiarly addictive ('I'll just read one more, and then I'll close the book... Oh, what the hell, all right, just a few more...')?

When the answer dawned on me, I nearly laughed aloud at the implied incongruity, for I realised that something in Thomas was reminding me of Charles Bukowski - disreputable, drunken, foulmouthed, whoring, misogynistic, proto-Beat-Poet Bukowski, no less. And something about the analogy would not let go. It may seem a long way from

There is no other sound
in the darkness but the sound of a man
breathing, testing his faith
on emptiness, nailing his questions
one by one to an untenanted Cross.


I stood at my window on the 3rd floor
and I saw a beautiful blonde girl
embrace a young man there and kiss him
with ...

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