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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 5 Number 5, 1975.

Burns Singer Michael Schmidt


Like the two limbs of a cross
Your words, my answers lie
Together in the place
Where all our meanings die.


BURNS SINGER achieved only a limited popularity in his lifetime, and since his death in 1964 - at the age of thirty-six - he has found few champions. An incomplete Collected Poems (1970) was issued with an embarrassing memoir by Hugh MacDiarmid and an evasive introduction by W. A. S. Keir. The book occasioned little interest. But Singer is one of the few original poets of his generation. Born two years before Ted Hughes, his makes an interesting corrective to Hughes's later vision. Anne Cluysenaar draws the distinction in ethical terms. She quotes a passage from 'The Gentle Engineer', written in 1951-2.

It is my own blood nips at every pore
And I myself the calcified treadmark of
Process towards me:
All of a million delicate engines whisper
Warm now, to go now
Through dragnets of tunnels forwards as my life.
I carry that which I am carried by.


She comments, 'This sense of being part of the universe, not lost in it, allows for a more positive formulation than does "wodwoism".' There is not the dissociation between man and his environment, but rather continuity and interdependence. Singer was an accomplished scientist, while Hughes is a romantic anthropologist.

James Hyman Singer (he later adopted his mother's maiden name, Burns, as his middle name) was born in New York ...


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