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This article is taken from PN Review 88, Volume 19 Number 2, November - December 1992.

Donald Davie Claude Rawson

IN AN ESSAY ON Bunting's Briggflatts in 1977, Donald Davie said he was a difficult poet for both American and English readers. His voice, allusions, topography are English, uttering 'insistently an alien, a non-American, experience and attitude'. For English readers, 'he is difficult because, line by line and page by page, his words come at us according to a system of juxtapositions and disjunctions' for which 'we can find no precedent … among English poets'. The English reader, who has the easier job, 'has only to acquaint himself with the body of arguments and assumptions about poetry that Bunting in his youth worked out in alliance with certain American contemporaries.' The patness of this is deceptive: we study the American associations 'only so that we may subsequently discount them', and they are matters of technique, but operating 'at levels more profound than technique - to which however only technique gives us access'. In that sense, 'technically, surely, Anglo-American is what our poetry will be henceforth' while 'the English poet will remain as English as ever, the American as American'.

In a way characteristic of his best criticism, the account is self-implicating or self-defining. Its ceaseless probing and supersession of its own observations, before facility is allowed to set in (the system learnt so it may be discounted, technique mastered to a point more profound than itself) are also characteristic. Even the little history lesson isn't the parable about Imagism and its legacy that you might expect. On ...


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