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

in Conversation with Donald Davie Clive Wilmer

Donald Davie's life has been ruled by poetry. Now retired, he has spent the whole of his adult life not just writing poetry but teaching it too, as critic, scholar, editor and professor. He has been prolific: at a rough count, there are sixteen books of criticism and fifteen books of poetry, including three volumes of Collected Poems. And those figures take no account of his work as editor, translator, book-reviewer and occasional essayist.

Davie's strength as a writer derives from internal conflict. At the start of his career, for instance, he was associated with that reaction against Modernism known as the Movement. As he developed though, an early fascination with the achievement of Ezra Pound grew with him and worked against the grain of his natural conservatism. He has never quite lost the disciplined formality of his first book, Brides of Reason, but the textures of his verse have roughened considerably.

His most recent book of poetry, To Scorch or Freeze, is technically his most radical. The book is a sequence of fractured free-verse psalms, which embody - rather than describe - the problems of a sacred language in a pluralist age. Davie's recent work disarmingly reveals a temperament - candid, irascible and vulnerable - which the orderly quatrains of his early books held in check.

Clive Wilmer: To anyone unfamiliar with your work those two books, To Scorch or Freeze and Brides of Reason, might seem to have been written by ...


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