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This review is taken from PN Review 92, Volume 19 Number 6, July - August 1993.

SCREAMING NEATLY Weldon Kees, Collected Poems (Faber) £7.99 pb
Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture (Greywolf Press) £7.99 pb

Weldon Kees, the American poet who (it's believed) committed suicide in 1955 by throwing himself off the Golden Gate bridge, and whose merits have been proclaimed over the years by Donald Justice, is now beginning to get considerable attention. Indeed, there was a Bookmark programme devoted to him recently. It began with Simon Armitage pointing to a skyline that could only be Manhattan and asking his taxi-driver if it was Manhattan. Overcome by a sudden foreboding, I remembered I had things to be getting on with.

Kees's poems themselves don't usually start in a banal fashion - Dana Gioia indeed gives us a list of enterprising first lines in his essay on the poet - though they often end that way, with the clang of closure giving a false resonance to the difficult material that has been taken on. These examples of last lines are taken from consecutive poems in the Faber edition: 'We blink in darkened rooms towards exits that are gone', 'like all the smashed-up baggage of the heart', 'And I wanted to die but they left me there'. We get no sense of blinking, of breakage, of undesired persistence; the exits, far from gone, have large signs above them: Leave The Poem Here.

The fact that such resolutions are often out of place can perhaps be demonstrated by reference to a poem called 'Crime Club', which (a year or two before Auden's essay on 'The Guilty Vicarage') deconstructs the optimistic tradition of ...


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