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This review is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

SPITTING IMAGE Alan Robinson: Instabilities in Contemporary British Poetry (Macmillan) £29.50 & £9.95

Of the two books on contemporary poetry I read shortly before this one, one followed the Sheeran-principle (he is the Oxford don who classifies poets on Football League table lines); the other mixed strains and breeds to produce a good romp round the field. Robinson takes neither the 'pedigree' nor the 'mongrel' tack. Under the least raunchy of titles imaginable, his book looks like another cobbled-together collection of occasional essays. But there is much more substance than this. It is, so to speak, by deconstruction-structuralism out of Post-modernism with a back kick at 'purely stylistic analysis'. (Incidentally, do we have to go all the way from Second Post- to Last Post-Modernism?) In spite of Robinson's disclaimer, it has a Thesis, or rather several: that poets who started to make their reputations in the 70s and 80s exhibit fragmentation and a turning from engagement in the old sense as a reaction to the 'High Modernism' of Eliot and early Pound, and the 'Late Modernism' of Williams and late Pound; that contemporary poetry taps energies from non-metropolitan sources; and that it shows, in its ludic and parodic veins and poets' style-consciousness, a filtering down into poetry from that Laputa of critical theories that hangs over contemporary literary studies. That is the map of twentieth-century poetry Robinson lays out in his muscle-flexing early chapters.

But the more you look at it, the more you realise landmarks are missing which would confound the picture: Hardy and Yeats, and since the war, ...


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