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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

KINDS OF SIGNIFICANCE English Poetry: a poetic record, from Chaucer to Yeats. Selected, arranged, edited, annotated, and introduced by David Hopkins (Routledge) £40

'Some modern academics,' David Hopkins says, 'would deny the very existence of "poetry" or "literature" as discrete categories, and would advocate the assimilation of literary study, along with that of politics, religion, ideas and the other arts, to a more general study of "discourse" or "cultural practices."' Among such critics even the habit of expressing preferences 'is becoming increasingly unfashionable', we are told. No harm in anybody saying whatever he wants to say about poetry, but for students to be lured into Departments of Literature organized on the assumption that the subject does not exist would amount to an academic malpractice involving a malversation of public funds. Hopkins's new anthology is on a different tack. He is properly cautious in what he says about critics, but what he has done is to make 'a collection of "poetic responses" by the English poets to one another's work'.

The compilation of such an anthology is a delicate task. The book 'does not attempt to represent the full range of remarks which English poets have made about their fellow practitioners'. It consists of two parts, the first 'On Poetry', and the second 'On Poets'. Most of the extracts are in verse, but both include 'poets' prose comments in those instances where the writing seems, in whole or in part, to be "aspiring to the condition of poetry"'. This plan seems to suggest that whatever has been said in the verse is 'poetry', and that that name implies something 'one would ...


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