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

A UNIQUE VOICE Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Collected Poems and Translations (Allardyce, Barnett) £28

Veronica Forrest-Thomson died in 1975 at the age of 27. This volume - beautiful both as text and object - joins her critical book, Poetic Artifice (Manchester University Press, 1978), to complete a major achievement in post-war British poetry, and, following the success of A Various Art, in which she was represented, ought to win recognition for a unique voice.

Poetic Artifice presents a post-structuralist argument illuminated by prac. crit. in the best Empsonian tradition. A critic who focused, in the early seventies, on Prynne and Ashbery as the finest living English and American poets deserves to be read in the nineties. Criticism of Prynne has been characterized by incomprehension on the one hand and special pleading on the other, and, as with Ashbery, critics tend to adopt an attitude to his poetry rather than to discriminate among his poems. Donald Davie in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry is an honourable exception, and Forrest-Thomson is another. Her theory of the 'disconnected image-complex', an attempt to systematize what has and what ought to have been learnt from Eliot, is an extraordinarily subtle one, and there is much to dispute, but her readings of several poets, including Empson and Swinburne, to name two not readily associated, are the finest available. Forrest-Thomson appreciates Swinburne not only for his poetry but equally for his wonderful criticism, and what other critic of Empson has been able to follow, not only his ambiguities, but his maths? Analysis of 'Letter V', for example, conducted ...

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