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

FITTING IN SIMON BARRACLOUGH, Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt Publishing) £12.99
JOSEPH P. CLANCY, Passing Through (Headland Publications) £7.95
TOBY OLSON, Darklight (Shearsman Books) £8.95

All great poets are unalike in their own genius while all mediocre poets tend to clump into familiar types. Inhabiting familiar roles and styles has a paradoxical effect on literary reputation: it does just enough to get you published and perhaps give you a nice living but it keeps you from rising above the pack by being truly distinctive. The three books under review are all respectable, if unexceptional, examples of contemporary poetry but in reading them you have the sense that you've already read them. For anyone who regularly reads poetry, the authors are each recognisable poetic types.

James P. Clancey, in Passing Through, is the older, slightly sentimental, slightly nostalgic and unassuming observer of daily life. One of his poetic hooks is that he divides his time between Wales and America so he can play the outsider when assessing both places. The poetic quality of his assessments tends to be unexceptional:

San Francisco streets
      Are film-familiar, but the hills around
Turn brown for May.
       Come October, they'll be green again.


In general, Clancy is sunny, optimistic, and hopeful that everything is for the best. A poem about turning seventy evinces some worries about lines and ageing as well as the dangers of too much introspection: 'As for looking inward, don't. Today/Is not the time. When will it ever be?/Spend a happy birthday...' Occasionally, Clancy tries for a weightier theme, as in his somewhat offputting commemoration ...


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