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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

SIX OF THE BEST Unauthorized Versions: Poems and their Parodies, edited by Kenneth Baker (Faber) £14.99

Like a good politician, Kenneth Baker starts off his introduction to this genteel anthology in somewhat confusing fashion. In one breath he speaks of parody's purpose as being pleasure, to 'make you laugh or smile'. In the next, he says parodying has come to mean 'to ridicule through imitation'. That word 'ridicule' surely implies something harsh - the deadly-serious art of satire, in fact, rather than the 'soft dissolvent' (as a notorious satirist once put it) of English humour. Unfortunately Baker's selection is very much of the latter sort, with a touch of the scatalogical and the occasional suggestion of astringency to quicken the primrose sensibilities of the readership he apparently seeks.

With Dwight Macdonald's comprehensive Parodies anthology retrievable from their old stock of titles, we can only speculate why Faber bothered with Unauthorized Versions. Many of Baker's selections are inconsequential, transitory in inspiration, parochial in subject matter, sophomoric in wit, or plain pallid. On one of the few occasions when the book passes up the British scene, the editor feels impelled to explain Eugene O'Neill's use of the term 'Bull Moose' in a parody aimed at Teddy Roosevelt. 'A "Bull Moose" was a member of the Progressive Party and a follower of Theodore Roosevelt,' Baker declares - when the Bull Moose was actually the party's collective symbol. A minor point and, anyway, Baker is brave enough to employ parodies by Ezra Pound at two junctures in this collection. But he uses one of J.B. Morton's less ...


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