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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

INNOCENTS AND GROTESQUES David Constantine, Madder (Bloodaxe Books) £4.95

David Constantine is not, like Philip Larkin, a poet to whom 'the whole of the ancient world, the whole of classical and biblical mythology means very little', and so cannot justly be accused of filling his poems 'full of dead spots' and 'dodging the writer's duty to be original'. His use of myth is not self-consciously programmatic, but natural to him, and a way of ordering experience, so that the myths of the past have a resonance in the present, and present experience is deepened and comprehended through the recollecting of the past. I imagine him listening intently, and hearing through the pervious surface of the present sounds and signals that the past has never ceased from transmitting, but which mostly pass unheard in the contemporary world. For perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his poetry is its attentiveness, to the world and to language, and because it is attentive, the reader, too, is attentive. One is reminded by this quality, as well as by the movement of his verse, of Mandelstam's remark about 'the purely European passion for periodic wavering moments, that same intent listening to the wave, which runs through all our theory of light and sound, all our theory of matter, all our poetry and all our music'.

Mandelstam's words strike very deep. Naturally, they throw light on more than Constantine's practice. They also describe perfectly the most important aspect of Edward Thomas's verse, as well as of the verse of a poet who ...


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