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This review is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

SELVES AND SONGS CAROL RUMENS, Self into Song (Bloodaxe)
JAMES BERRY, Windrush Songs (Bloodaxe)
JACK MAPANJE Beasts of Nalunga (Bloodaxe)

The University of Newcastle/Bloodaxe poetry lectures are an innovative project. Open to students and academics as well as the general public, the lectures are given by contemporary and practising poets. The publication of Carol Rumens' lectures allows those of us not resident in Tyneside, if not to get inside, at least to put an ear to the lecture hall door.

For her three lectures Rumens focuses on Derek Mahon, Philip Larkin and the poetic line. With the last, she is most insightful. Tracing how the line has developed from Chaucer to Alice Oswald, Rumens shows poetry moving away from heavy metrical patterns into more subdued, speech-like accentual patterns: 'Poetry used to orate: now it murmurs and chatters.'

This chattering concerns Rumens who fears 'poetry will lose its musicality'. The examples she gives of poems written with conscious attention to their metre resonate far deeper than those which don't. What persuades us most is her skilful, detailed close reading of poems, right down to punctuation. It is disappointing that this attention to specifics does not extend to her studies of individual poets. Looking at the poetry of Mahon and Larkin, Rumens often tries to find the meaning of a poem in the poet's biography or, worse, to disclose the inner workings of the poet's mind in his written works.

Rumens uses Larkin's poetry to support her theory about Larkin: that he was abused as a child. Yet questions about the life are rendered irrelevant ...


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