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This article is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

'Derangement from deep inside': J.H. Prynne's 'Refuse Collection' Colin Winborn

J.H. Prynne's 'Sun Set 4.56' opens with a light perception:

        Small flares skip
down the coal
face how can I
        refuse them 1

In what follows, the speaker is fleetingly transported, powered by the 'warm indolence/ of fancy':

                      & how
easily I am taken
        from the hearth &
returned
             changed

What the poem appears to describe is a brief Romantic reverie, in which the poet, in contemplation of a luminous object, is momentarily taken out of himself. Despite the skewed typography and ambiguous syntax, this is in fact familiar territory. The first few lines, particularly, hint at what is almost greeting-card cliché: 'how can I/ refuse them', as if to say, 'How can I possibly resist their lure, their beauty?'

But the word 'refuse' here refuses to stay still; it niggles at such a formulaic reading. For rather than being a mere sentimental commonplace, what is actually (or also) being articulated in these lines is a question which goes to the heart of Prynne's work: 'How can I re-fuse them?'. According to the OED, to 're-fuse' is 'to fuse or melt again', and 'refusion' is 'the act of pouring back'. Almost all of Prynne's work, as critics such as David Shephard have noted, is concerned with the 're-fusing' of seemingly incommensurate or incompatible discourses; it turns also on the 'refusion' of self into other. Thus in 'Sun ...


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