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This review is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

PRISONS OF INVENTION JAMIE MCKENDRICK, Crocodiles and Obelisks (Faber and Faber) £9.99

Jamie McKendrick's collection, Crocodiles and Obelisks, develops many of the themes of his previous books, whilst displaying certain departures and developments of style. His engagement with Italian and Spanish poetry and culture runs deep, and is not simply the source of his various translations and versions (which include Catullus, Rilke, and Montale in this book, among others). McKendrick is not a cherry-picker or cultural magpie; his outlook as an English poet in the here-and-now is conditioned by continental history, languages, poetries, as well as by personal experience of European cultures. His internationalism registers the much-heralded giving-way of 'tradition' to 'traditions', but only, as it were, de facto; there is nothing premeditated, nothing specious, about his fascination with Italy, particularly. His involvement with Italian poetry - as the editor of, and contributor to, the Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poems, as well as the translator of the Roman poet Valerio Magrelli - is genuine and generative of his voice of the inner émigré. In Crocodiles and Obelisks, this Liverpool-born poet navigates the difficult channel between personal fascination and dilettantism; he is occasionally dandyish, esoteric. However, to read him is to encounter a voice of matter-of-fact, urbane melancholia, an engaging everydayness immersed in the unheimlich.

In McKendrick's poems we see history through a glass, darkly. The darkness is that of the poet's view of history itself, given most forceful expression, perhaps, in 'Ancient History' from ...


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