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PN Review 276
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This report is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.

Bread and the Big Match Lawrence Sail

In translating quotations from other languages the editors of the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations have, they write, striven for 'a livelier rendering than earlier versions', and their treatment of Juvenal's opinion of the citizen's concerns ['Duas tantum res anxius optat, / Panem et circenses'] seems apt for the idiom of our time: 'Only two things does he worry about or long for - bread and the big match'.

There is more to this than the snap of satire: and as our century draws to its close, escorted by prophecies and retrospects, prefaces and afterwords, the issue of 'entertainment' and its possible relation to any sense of value is well to the fore. In one sense the issue of entertainment confronts every poet who undertakes a reading, especially if he or she is the kind of poet whose work is suited more to the page than the stage. To choose those poems which their writer knows most likely to succeed in performance may be simply sensible: to choose only such poems may be to sell poetry short, and it is a part of the age's sense of its democratic self that poets who have come off their high horse should sometimes ride the pantomime one. We like to play it both ways: and the ability of humour to go hand in hand with pathos and despair, as well as being a truism, suits the bad conscience imposed on us by knowledge of the world's ...

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