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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

PRIVATE PLEASURES Tom Paulin, Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (Faber and Faber) £15.99

Tom Paulin is a stimulating and provocative critic whose moral opinions are visible in his breast pocket as a sort of petulant threat. The occasional sense is of a man angling for disagreement so that he can begin to abuse reactionary, middle-class, English bigots.

Broadly speaking the sorts of people he doesn't like are people who are not feminists, people who advocate racism by holding reservations about removing Robinson Crusoe from school libraries, and finally, people who don't watch Channel 4.

Perhaps most particularly of all he doesn't like Geoffrey Hill. His antipathy in this instance is fuelled partly by what he takes for Hill's bungled piece of posturing about Auschwitz in the poem 'Of Commerce and Society7. Those of Paulin's readers who enjoyed his excited dismissal of Times Arrow (Martin Amis's holocaust-comedy) on The Late Show last year, will recognize the moral earnestness with which he is capable of reinforcing his critical positions.

Paulin's view is that politics and poetry must cease to be incompatible in the minds of readers. For him poetry is inherently political anyway, but even when it is political on purpose, he feels that it can still be good. The critic must therefore be sensitive to the politics of poetry.

His gloss on the passage from Book One of The Prelude, where Wordsworth recalls the Lakeland cottages of his boyhood friends (and their 'home amusements by the warm peat fire/ At evening') illustrates the particular style ...


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