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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

MACDIARMID'S LOCH NESS MONSTER Alan Riach, Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry (Edinburgh University Press) £35

Readers of MacDiarmid will be aware that in In Memoriam James Joyce is a long poem; they will not necessarily have thought of it as an epic. At the end of reading Alan Riach's book they might still have difficulties in so conceiving it, imbued as they will be with the notion of a tradition running from Homer to Milton, and more or less ending bathetically in the mock-epic of The Rape of the Lock. To such a reader Riach's invocation of a tradition of epic running from Doughty to Olson (and presumably including Pound, but who else?) will be in vain, and the locating of MacDiarmid within this tradition an irrelevance. Pound's definition of epic as a poem containing history is not particularly apposite in MacDiarmid's case, and his alternative term 'the tale of the tribe' (taken, though Riach pardonably does not mention the fact, from Rudyard Kipling) is not either obviously helpful. Does it matter whether we call In Memoriam an epic or not? To speak in these terms is perhaps already too solemn a way to approach a poem characterized so much by a linguistic brio, a preposterous high spirits, and a self-mocking slyness entirely absent, say, from Pound's Cantos.

Riach summons a good number of modern authorities to help him interrogate the critical problems presented by In Memoriam. Some of these authorities are more helpful than others; some, it must be said, are not helpful at all. Brecht's Entfremdungs-affekt, for example, or the ...


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