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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

LITTLE ENOUGH Harry Smart, Pierrot (Faber and Faber) £4.99

'What can poetry do against a wall / Of skulls?' ('Year 10'). Little enough, one might think, but who cares, when it can win you a place in the Prizewinners' Anthology of the 1987 National Poetry Competition, or on the shortlist for the 1990 Arvon International? 'Lyrical in the Killing Fields, / Should it tread softly?' Admire the aplomb of the poet, suffering these agonies on our behalf, who can craft his qualms into tidy lines, then lick a stamp and post them off in the hope of winning a prize! The realistic hope, it would appear - what times are these, indeed?

I wonder if Brecht is satisfied - or turning in his grave? The deft allusion to one of Yeats's dreamiest lyrics - the implicit claim that 'First Lieutenant Smartcliffe as friends used say' ('Billy Budd', sic) is made of sterner yet more compassionate stuff than such an old stager as Yeats - rubs salt in the wound. It reminds me of a Guardian review of As We Know that used 'toughly Brechtian' pragmatism as a stick to beat Ashbery with. In fact, this book is the exclusive product of the world of competitions - and copy-writing, and co-opted covers. The latest Bloodaxe promotion, 'Ian Duhig', who 'has the questionable distinction of being the leader of a new cultural movement … Punk Modernism - or PM', gets a namecheck, and the credit for a satirical swing - 'that golfing-torn, that dong-tormented sea' - that lands ...


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