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

GENUINE RISKS Donald Davie, Collected Poems (Carcanet) £25

'The English that I feel in', Davie wrote, 'Fears the inauthentic'. He was afraid of its invading a poem and of the reduced returns which come from fending it off, 'Confounding authenticity with essence'. To be inclusive and authentic Davie has experimented over four decades. The back cover of his new Collected Poems is graced with some generously insightful comments by Martin Dodsworth, who notes that 'there is no one ideal poem which all his poems resemble' and concludes 'It is the vulnerable risk-taking art of Davie that calls upon affection and enthusiasm.' Davie's work is seen here as a whole project, a process of exploration, and, as is implied in 'vulnerable', while some poems may succeed less well than others, it is only through 'risk-taking' that Davie has been able to achieve his best. Re-reading these poems brought together in one volume for the first time, I sense there are tendencies throughout which have issued in extremely satisfying work, other promptings which drew Davie in damagingly vulnerable directions.

While, for me, Davie's finest collection is Essex Poems, closely followed by Events and Wisdoms and In the Stopping Train, there are pieces from first to last which have moved, encouraged and instructed, for which I feel, exactly, 'affection and enthusiasm'. The clipped cleverness of his earliest poems describes a stance adopted, but on reaching 'Time Passing, Beloved' a new note is struck with ranging rhythms and concealed rhymes shaping an intimacy and uncertainty. 'Via Portello' counters a ...

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