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This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

NEITHER CANNIBAL NOR COMET D.J. ENRIGHT, Old Men and Comets (Oxford Poets, Oxford University Press) £6.99
ANNE STEVENSON, Four and a Half Dancing Men (Oxford Poets, Oxford University Press) £6.99
DAVID MIDDLETON, As Far as Light Remains, (The Cummington Press, Omaha, Nebraska) hb$25

'Old men and comets,' says Swift, 'have been reverenced for the same reason: their long beards and pretences to foretell events'. It provides a good title but not an accurate one, since pretences - and portentousness - are not on the Enright agenda. His first poem, 'Clichés', does end with a generalisation -'For the old most things are platitudes;/ Knowing it makes no difference' - but sonority is eschewed, and indeed the quiet ambiguities of the final line, by attracting enquiry, mitigate any possible resonance. In 'Fears', 'Loud noises in the middle distance' attract a quick catalogue of explanations, from yobs on the staircase to 'Martians bursting through the ceiling', but turn out in the end to be a trick of aural perspective, nothing more than 'faint noises near at hand', the stomach 'Mildly remonstrating or perhaps applauding'.

Enright is not a poet to go in for bardic posturing. Indeed occasionally one almost wishes for something gaudy and unsubstantiated, a sudden lapse into the meretricious; poignantly, one senses that Enright would rather fancy it too: 'In a dull dream one is relating one's exciting dream'. Perhaps the nearest he comes to broaching excitement directly is in a series of playful poetic sketches called 'First Words, Last Chances':

Odalisques, frillies
Frou-frous - and aboulia:
  Let's mithridatize!


I picked that stanza more or less at random out of 30-odd but as luck would have it the very next one, in its enumeration ...


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