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This review is taken from PN Review 70, Volume 16 Number 2, November - December 1989.

TRAVELLING COMPANIONS Hugo Williams, Selected Poems (Oxford University Press) £6.95 pb.
David Harsent, Selected Poems (Oxford University Press) £7.95 pb.

A Selected Poems needs to be more than an acceptable train-read. For the author, its publication is a significant milestone: a ratification at least of reputation; and, by gathering poems from out-of-print early collections into company with recent work, a book giving an overall sense of the poet's creative career and evolution. Where the selection is made, as in the cases of Hugo Williams and David Harsent, fellows from the OUP stables who both began publishing in the 1960s, by the poet, he or she has opportunity for retrospective self-critical scrutiny, to exclude poems, however they may have been toiled over in a different place and a distant summer, whereon time has added no satisfying patina, but discovered like cracks in once-fresh concrete flaws, confusions, botched rendition. Also poems which are simply too slight, or too close to something one has done better elsewhere. The self-selector can also decide the stresses of theme, subject-matter, mood, he or she wishes now to present as characterising an accumulated oeuvre. But achieving a Selected is also a challenging test of the poet's work: a reader entering its imaginative world expects to find it substantial and continually compelling, something that will stay with him; will be severe upon inclusions here of trivial or flabby writing, upon gross unevennesses, which on their original appearance won sympathetic tolerance as honest tries, or the author's necessary failures. And established reputation is no ratification of final poetic worth.

The back-cover of Hugo Williams's selection carries ...


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