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This review is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

TRUTH BEYOND OUR OWN E.J. Scovell, Selected Poems (Carcanet) £6.95

This selection is drawn mainly from the Collected Poems of 1988, which I reviewed at length in P·N·R 61. I spoke there of a gift undiminished - indeed, enhanced - by the passage of time; and reading the previously uncollected poems which conclude this selection, I'm struck again by a technical assurance and an emotional energy which seem strangely at odds with the poet's explicit references to the circumscribed powers and perspectives of old age. Look, for example, at 'Old People':

They dwell in sorrow. If a time may come
When they recall as happiness this time
Yet now they know that Sorrow is its name,

Their country of domicile; and that it is,
Like other countries, not without its flowers
(Although as insect-small as arabis,
Minutest crucifer in stones and grass) -

As when in nights strange and unselved
   with sleep
And waking, she goes down to bring him up
Chocolate in a cup or sweetened tea,
Emblem of better comfort than can be;
And thinks of midnight feasts that children
   scheme:
Closeness, adventure, waking dream.


That second sentence, fluid yet controlled, unfolding through clause after clause to the poem's conclusion, is characteristic, as is the chronological range which it encompasses. The tentative glance forward to a time at which present sorrows may retrospectively assume the appearance of joys (a possibility so quietly understated that we might easily ...


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