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PN Review 276
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This item is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

Letters from Silas Gunn
Like London Buses

Dear Sir,

I find that PNR 176 slipped from your usual standards of accuracy and argumentation.

Poetry is like religion in that one defends what one believes in and loves by consistency in discourse.

R.F. Langley in 'From a Journal' (p. 12) makes something of a to-do about identifying a flock of woodlark by means of the supercilia round their necks instead of seeing the brambling he set out to find. Then back for a bit of light verse by Jeremy Prynne to confirm the virtues of seeing 'newly what is new'. This is too parsonical for this reader especially with a change of pronoun from 'we' to 'you'. As for seeing rain without thinking of rain I would disagree, as would readers of Edward Thomas's great poem and a number of poems by Pasternak. Langley is engaging in the chimerical pursuit of human perception prior to language. It's like wishing for original virtue in the garden of Eden. The language animal articulated nothing before it could speak.

Apart from this, the purity of Langley's diction is marred by having the woodlark 'ferret about'. Alas, one can't reverse noun and verb and have ferrets larking about as the noun lark and the verb lark have different etymologies.

                          SILAS GUNN

Dear Sir,

Although I live abroad I was under the impression that British railways used diesel engines now rather than steam engines. This belief does not appear to be shared by Terri Witek, who concludes her article on Donald Davie (PNR 176, p. 48) with an image of travelling westwards to 'dull Devon' with smoke pluming from the train engine. I guess this might happen if one goes to a certain London station and embarks from Platform nine and three-quarters. However, I was under the impression that Donald Davie did not leave England for America until steam had vanished from our public transport and certainly would have been uncomfortable with the Olde Worlde England of Ms Witek's imagination.

Yours again,
                          SILAS GUNN

Dear Sir,

I was dismayed by the logic-chopping in James Keery's 'Paper Tigers, Burning Bright!' in PNR 176, p. 61. There is nothing in the quotation from Professor Tolley which implies that Poetry London 'was nipped in the bud by the coming of war'.

Poetry London published a variety of poetry as attested by Derek Stanford's 'Remembering the Forties'. To yoke the Apocalyptics and Poetry London together in the way that Keery does is untenable.

Furthermore, we are invited to view 'the finest British poetry of the last sixty years in the context of the "visionary modernism" of Thomas and J.H. Prynne'. This seems a particularly astigmatic focus with which to read Basil Bunting, Thom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, George Mackay Brown, Gillian Clarke, Elizabeth Jennings, the brilliant host of Irish poets in English and, of course, those two young Apocalyptics, Norman McCaig and Christopher Middleton.

A final example of Keery's distorted view is his citing of the running of a BBC series of programmes with the Apocalyptics. Keery writes, 'The implications of the schedule are clear. Firstly that the Apocalypse is considered by the BBC to be the culmination of twentieth-century English poetry to date.' The chronology of poetry movements, rather than merit, is far more likely to have been the decisive factor in deciding a running order. The fact that the number 41 trolley bus is the last to appear in the hour in my local bus timetable doesn't make for a culmination in the Belgrade transport system.

It seems to me that James Keery has, like Apocalyptic verse, become more than a little over-excited.

Yours as ever,
                             SILAS GUNN

This item is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

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