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

POETRY AND ITS DISCONTENTS The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse, edited by Tom Paulin (Faber) £14.99
Radical Renfrew, edited by Tom Leonard (Polygon) £25, £9.95 pb

A new round of discontent with 'the sleek tennis-lawns of our tongue' has erupted in the domain of British poetry and, as so often with agitation over matters of verse or otherwise, the trouble-makers are out on the Celtic fringe. The current rebellion is a two-pronged pro-vernacular affair, the work of anthologists (usually a peacefulenough breed) not to all appearances acting in conspiratorial partnership though with matching forenames to bear out their common intent.

One of them, the Scot Tom Leonard, complains that 'the spread of education as a right to the mass of the people has paradoxically led to the deprivation, from them, of much they once held to be valid literature'. Leonard claims that these days, before a poem is accepted and taught as such, it first has to be certified by the Educators as 'embodying desirable social, moral and political values'. It is works from outside that stultifying canon - particularly verse written in what was the officially disparaged urban vernacular of the West of Scotland - that Leonard systematically brandishes in his anthology of poetry generated by the life of Renfrewshire between the French Revolution and the First World War.

In an effort to strike a similar blow for the vernacular generally, Northern Ireland's Tom Paulin, already editor of The Faber Book of Political Verse, has assembled a fresh contribution to the mushrooming host of Faber anthologies. Paulin's enemy is broader than Leonard's band of pedagogic suppressors. It amounts to a ...


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