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

POETRY BURNS Poems by Gay Clifford, introduced by Germaine Greer (Hamish Hamilton) £14.99

When I was an undergraduate, they were Miss Clifford and Dr Greer, the only two women lecturers in the disproportionately male and oddly formal English department of a new University in the late sixties, and in all but the capacity for hard work they were opposites: Gay Clifford, the elegant Oxonian mediaevalist, a woman determined and able to be brilliant in every sense; Germaine Greer, the tempestuous and unpredictable Australian radical ('Do you know,' one of her colleagues, caught between amazement and amusement, told me, 'that Germaine's writing a book about the role of women and calling it The Female Eunuch? No one will ever publish it'). I'd have guessed that Gay Clifford's interest in literary creativity ended somewhere around 1500 - she didn't seem then to have the essential messiness of personality to be a writer - but a few years later she began to write, copiously, the poems in this book, until on Christmas Eve 1984 her academic and literary career was cut short by a cerebral haemorrhage.

The circumstances of this publication are thus extraordinary, and it's hard to be dispassionate about the poems, especially after reading Germaine Greer's introduction, which is all the more moving for its candour and occasional acidity. What the poems lack is that unmistakable authorial tidying and arranging for volume publication; they have, with their sometimes draft-like quality and their dates of composition, the special air of poems prepared for publication by other hands. Reading Gay Clifford is a ...


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