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This review is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY Martin Bell, Complete Poems, edited by Peter Porter. (Bloodaxe) £12.95 hb, £7.95 pb

Martin Bell is the postwar poet who went missing. Once a prominent member of the Group, his personal circumstances prompted his virtual disappearance as a writer after the late 1960s. This complete edition attempts a rehabilitation, and the editor, Peter Porter, makes large claims for Bell's work, claims which are as difficult to assess as is the poetry itself. Bell was born in 1918, so that the Second World War delayed his development as a poet. In 1939, while others awaited conscription, he took the unusual step of volunteering for the Royal Engineers. He was a Communist at the time, and like many others in those years thought of himself as fighting for a better future. He did not preserve his wartime poems, and so his publishing career began late; in his memoir Peter Porter writes that Bell was at his best in the ten years from the age of thirty-seven, that is, from 1955 to 1965. His only separate publication was the Collected Poems 1937-1966 of 1967, though a selection was made available in Penguin Modern Poets 3 in 1962.

It was alcohol and exile in Leeds that seem to have finished him. Several ambitious projects remained uncompleted, and it is what survives of these that is gathered here, alongside the entire 1967 collection. 'The City of Dreadful Something' was aimed at Leeds; 'Letters from Cyprus', on the Auden-MacNeice Icelandic model, celebrates that island, as well as a number of cats. 'Operatics and Intrusions' expresses his ...


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