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This article is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

Beyond the New World: Donald Davie's Anglo-American Confessions Gareth Reeves

Although in his essay 'Sincerity and Poetry' (1966) Donald Davie acknowledged the arrival of American so-called 'confessional' poetry, he did so warily. Alert to the 'manoeuvring' (as Lowell called it) going on in the Life Studies poems, to their way of angling the facts, Davie writes that the confessional poet 'selects what he will reveal and suppresses much more; and in so far as the confessional poet thus presents only a trimmed and slanted image of himself, he may still be thought to be revealing to us not a personality but a persona'. Davie concludes, albeit through gritted teeth, that perhaps he is sounding mean-spirited, but the wariness is not surprising in an essay written at a time when 'impersonality' was generally assumed to be a poetic sine qua non. That assumption underlies many of the antitheses Davie set up in his discussions of poetry and aesthetics. In his essay 'Two Analogies for Poetry' (1962) the musical analogy is opposed to the sculptural, 'poetry-as-carving', and found wanting, because those poets who, 'like the symbolists', think of poetry as music, 'are characteristically excited by the degree to which their art can cut loose from the world of nature, creating an alternative world answering only to its own laws.' But 'poetry can never be as "pure" in this sense... as music is; it can never equal music in this respect since its medium, language, necessarily refers to the world the poet wishes to be free from'. That word 'excited' intimates all ...


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