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This review is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

MIGRANT TALES GAEL TURNBULL, There are Words: Collected Poems (Shearsman Books in association with Mariscat Press, 2006) £18.95

Gael Turnbull's poetry is difficult to judge, given the love he inspired as a colleague, editor, mentor. The importance of the work in the 1960s with the Migrant Press, bringing British poets into true contact with vibrant American writing, acknowledged by Charles Tomlinson, Roy Fisher et al., the stories of his generosity, speak of a maker in the Poundian role of enabler, co-creator, energiser. Given also his lifetime's dedication to his work as GP and anaesthetist, the courage needed tending the toughest patients in the backwoods of Northern Ontario, and what we have is quite simply a very good man. But it is as a poet that he asked to be judged - indeed this expectation informs everything he did, his passionate dedication to the purity of the craft.

The bulk of the work is minor writing, voicing its influences in the free forms developed by William Carlos Williams, that other poet-doctor, imitating the spoken energies of Creeley and Duncan, forging a transatlantic style grafted onto the late mod - ernism of a Bunting or Hamilton Finlay. The effect in the early work is rather insipid, however, a bloodless ruminative poetics, often prosaic, addicted to a long line without nerve or sinew: 'And they who read this will think it absurd that I should sit here writing / this, all of it, as though it was of great importance'. The self-consciousness and weak humour betray themselves in the staged lack of confidence, the clumsy syntax, the unreal ...


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