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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

The Ploughshare and the Stumbling Team Tim Kendall

Never let it be said that Edward Thomas's work is neglected. Published within months of each other, here are three new contributions to Thomas studies: a brilliantly annotated edition of his poems by their best scholar; a useful anthology of some of Thomas's wartime writings on writing; and a curious omnium gatherum of contemporary poets queuing up to acknowledge Thomas as father figure. Most of those poets are like Thomas in the way that a flea is like its dog, but even that evident truth works to confirm his eminence. Thomas, it would seem, is unstoppable. His readers can now look forward to the appearance, over the next several years, of a multi-volume edition of his prose. Much of it Thomas dismissed as hackwork, but the imprimatur of Clarendon Press will rank his achievement (across a number of genres) at the centre of modern English letters.

All of which is to be welcomed; but it does little to address problems which, notwithstanding and even because of these circumstances, beset Thomas's reputation. Any account of twentieth-century poetry which chose to ignore Yeats, Frost or Eliot would be considered laughably inadequate; but Thomas can be, and has continued to be, ignored by those kinds of survey. The Americans have barely heard of him; Michael Schmidt and Anne Stevenson, expatriates both, are their only representatives among the 50-odd contributors to Branch-Lines, and it is not at all obvious which other American poets the editors might ...


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