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This review is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

JOHN LUCAS, One for the Piano (Redbeck) £6.95
JAMIE MCKENDRICK, The Marble Fly (Oxford University Press) £6.99

A common note in blurb-writing is the insistence that a given poet has managed to achieve, simultaneously, both technical control and passionate intensity. The cover of David Hartnett's new collection, for example, advertises 'lyric fire and formal elegance', and this message is reinforced by quoted snippets from previous reviews. Hartnett, we are led to believe, is a 'highly assured technician', 'fully in command' of his 'tender, formal, graceful' poetry even while locating 'a luminous splendour of the eve,ryday'. Form becomes an idol, celebrated at its own end. However, the desirability of Hartnett's so-called 'elegance' is seriously questioned by At the Wood's Edge, his third collection.

At the Wood's Edge is written, for the most part, in clumsy rhyming quatrains. It is difficult to think of another poet for whom form and content are such distinct entities. Hartnett is often to be found scrambling across his lines, desperately padding them out to reach the inevitable rhyme-word, while arbitrarily inverting phrases, destroying syntax, and making his poems clogged and unreadable in the process. Incompetence passes itself off as Fine Writing, sometimes laughably so. A 'colony' of shaggy ink caps provokes the following high-powered quest for knowledge:

      What brought them here,
From which mycelium galaxies were
  they sent,

This brotherhood of filament and spore
To mottle middens with their
Did no one tell them nothing is too
For liquefaction's viscid iridescence?


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