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This article is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Burns Singer Patrick McGuinness

The penultimate poem of the recent and near-complete Collected Poems of Burns Singer is two lines long, untitled and - its editor James Keery tells us - was written on the back of a review slip sometime in the last year of Singer's life:

I said I'd meet you on the other side
Of all this clutter and I did set out.

It's hard to know whether these lines were meant to stand alone or intended for a longer poem, but in this doubt lies much of their power. At once compressed and open-ended, their valedictory feel is ambiguous too: does that 'did set out' express regret at something unfinished or not seen through, or is it the opposite - an emphatic claim to something under-taken, and whose undertaking was itself achievement enough? The fragment has something else characteristic of Singer's poetry: an interpellative directness, a sense of being addressed rather than just left on the page - his poems seem launched or propelled at the reader. Whatever the 'clutter' may have been, it's difficult not to read it, by the time we've reached the end of his Collected, as an allusion to Singer's poetic heritage: the New Apocalypse, the swagger and stagger of the poetry of the 1940s on which he went to school and which informed his early styles and subjects. It is usual for the poets who began in that maligned decade to ...


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