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This review is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

SENSORY IMAGES ALAN ROSS, Winter Sea (Harvill) £14.99

This is Alan Ross's fourth volume of autobiography (following on from Blindfold Games, Coastwise Lights, and After Pusan) but, increasingly, he gives little away about his closest relationships. The gossipy side of the self is entirely lacking. In some ways he's as hard to pin down as Ashbery, although any game-playing with competing realities is not his style. It's the observer in him that avoids self-questioning: curiosity is always more compelling than the confessional. Winter Sea, like his previous volumes, is an intriguing mix of memoir, poetry, and travel writing. Getting the balance right requires considerable honesty, innate literary tact, and a good eye. It's the latter that holds things together, including our interest. The painter in him is particularly well focused. It's these same qualities that make him such a good editor of the London Magazine, keeping it open since 1961 to talents that other editors might have considered outsiders. He can obviously sniff out false notes in his own work as well as he can in his contributors'. He's worked out his strengths and he keeps to them. His preferences are for the visual, direct narrative, and a strong feeling for the spirit of place. His war poems, particularly the wonderful 'Convoy J.W. 51 B', put him among the best of the Second World War poets and, in a way, this book is an extended footnote to some of those earlier experiences, a revisiting in calmer times. In 'Tallinn - Haapsalu' he journeys to the Baltic and ...

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