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

VETERANS C.K. WILLIAMS, Collected Poems (Bloodaxe) £20
FREDERICK SEIDEL, Selected Poems (Faber and Faber) £14.99
JOHN TRANTER, Urban Myths: 210 Poems (Salt) £19.99

Of this trio of veteran poets - Williams and Seidel are now both seventy and Tranter is in his sixties - it is Williams who emerges as the most traditional, returning us to a first-person voice we can more or less trust and an unambiguous narrative line. To a large extent is seems that for him modernism, not to say postmodernism, has never existed. The voice that we hear in most of these poems, far from being fractured or ironic, appears to be firmly anchored in Williams' own experience; the stories he tells us spring, we feel assured, from his own experiences, though the glosses he puts upon those experiences may, of course, be speculative. The straightforwardness of utterance and transparency of the language are akin to that of realist reportage:

     Up the street some surveyors with tripods are
waving each other left and right the way they do.
    A girl in a gym suit jogged by a while ago, some kids
passed, playing hooky, I imagine.

This realism can be stunningly mundane. We are offered such domestic scenes as:

     A summer cold. No rash. No fever. Nothing. But a
dozen times during the night I wake
     to listen to my son whimpering in his sleep, trying
to snort the sticky phlegm out of his nostrils.

Williams, famously, is the master of the (very) long line, and this can make him seem too ...


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