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

FEELING FOR LANGUAGE JOHN WELCH, Collected Poems (Shearsman Books) £14.95

Shearsman Books, a discriminating publisher of poetry and poetics, has performed a great service for contemporary English poetry by bringing out John Welch's Collected Poems. In the 1970s and 1980s Welch's Many Press published a wealth of chapbooks and occasional larger collections whose range encompassed the modernism of Ralph Hawkins, Tom Lowenstein, Barry MacSweeney, Peter Middleton, Peter Riley and Iain Sinclair and the more conventional styles of Ruth Padel, Peter Robinson and the neglected Bill Shepherd. Alongside the other poets of the Many Press Welch published small collections of his own work, often sequences accumulated round a theme or set of images or form. It would not be an over-statement to claim Welch has worked as distinctively with the unrhymed sonnet as Lowell in Notebook and without recourse to the seventeenth-century sonorities of Geoffrey Hill's Funeral Music. A very late first collection, Out Walking, was published in 1986, but was little noticed, although one reviewer described it as the best collection of the 1980s.

Welch's poetry is modernist in idiom although apparent closure in rhythm and feeling is not eschewed, particularly in shorter poems. Welch is descended from a line of Anglican clergymen and there is a reflective certainty about the way he puts poems together, which suggests a modernism that recognises the rhythms of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the late Augustan George Crabbe. Towards the end of the Collected Poems the poem 'Collected' takes as its ...


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