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This review is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

VENUS IS ALWAYS THE PAYDAY George Barker Street Ballads (Faber) £4.99

'Part of the Palgravian lie' - thus spake the late Patrick Kavanagh - 'was that poetry was a thing written by young men.' The greatest poetry, he went on, was written by men over 30 - 'it takes a lot of living to make a poem.'

In this, his last and posthumous collection, George Barker affirms Kavanagh's thesis while bidding him farewell:

Birds of a feather we were, my dear
     my own nest just as foul
as yours or indeed as any man's
     with half a soul.

Let them wash you white as they will,
     we come from dirt and from dust
and the dust and dirt animates us all
     as thank god it must.

Barker died last year - an unfinished poem on his desk - at the age of 78. Thus all poems in this collection were written by a man in his late seventies. Such is their vitality, drive, and exuberance, it's hard to believe; or would be, were it not for the note of valediction - at once humorous (in both the archaic and current sense) and macabre - that dominates every poem in the book, nowhere funnier or more scary than in the rumbustious 'Eight Voyages of Sanctimonious Bones', perhaps a truer confession than the True Confession of 1950:
When it seemed lawful to be quite awful

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