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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 4 Number 4, 1975.

Another Part of the Wood David Wright



SPORADIC ATTENTION was what Ian Hamilton's collection of essays got from Donald Davie's review of A Poetry Chronicle in the second number of Poetry Nation. No wonder; the fish Dr Davie was out to fry were in a lot of other kettles besides Mr Hamilton's. Dr Davie's article was in effect a lightning conducted tour of the history of the poetry market from Rupert Brooke to John Fuller.

For an old man like me - well, fairly old - an interesting point about Dr Davie's piece was the way he couldn't help peppering it with half-humorous commercial and politico-military jargon: 'putsches' 'objectives' 'assaults on wider fronts' 'take-overs' 'group-images' and the like. One gathers that Mr Hamilton's book is also full of it. Karl Kraus would have poised the forceps: a classic give-away of current preoccupations, not to say corruptions. Similarly Robert Conquest's decades-back introduction to his Movement anthology, buttressed with references to such well-known poets as George Orwell, the Id, and Aldous Huxley, stood witness to the fads of the fifties. And a few years later there was the famous 'gentility principle' preface to yet another group collection, wherein A. Alvarez talked about the art of verse in terms of breakthroughs and feedbacks - the argot of technology.

As befits the vocabulary needed to tell it in, the story Dr Davie unfolded was riveting. For the last half-century the literary capital has been controlled by a succession of Oxonian arbiters of poetic taste ...


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