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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

THWAITE'S ACADEMY John Mole, Homing (Secker & Warburg) £5.95
Lawrence Sail, Devotions (Secker & Warburg) £5.95

The trouble with ordinary decent folk is that ogres are much more interesting. When these good, civilized fathers, John Mole and Lawrence Sail, write affectionate poems about their children, you cannot help wondering whether loathing the kids might not produce livelier writing. And their enthusiasms are, well, so mind-numbingly respectable: Messiaen, Dufy, Thomas Girtin, jazz, Pasternak (Mole); Pissarro, cricket, Duchamp, Dufy (again), medieval illuminated manuscripts (Sail). You can almost hear the continuity announcer's voice between their poems: 'And now on Radio 3 . . .'.

Unfair, of course, but that really is the problem with these two admirable collections, the last of the old school of Secker, or Thwaite's Academy. John Mole must be sick of hearing about his civilized virtues, his suppleness of wit and corresponding lack of gravitas. In Homing, language-game-playing dexterity is more than ever the controlling mode, and no one does it better. There is 'Answer Phone', in which the initially sane recorded messages gradually mutate into lunacy; 'Translation', which is about walls and ladders (whose side is which, and why climb anyway?); a wonderful unpunctuated monologue spoken by a station wife; even a countdown to oblivion spoken by a mad parrot. The strategy seems to involve the fending-off of darkness by pointing brief ironic flashlights at it: the trick works marvellously until you wonder why he is doing it. As in so much of Mole's earlier work, what is missing is any sustained acknowledgement that life is a shade more hellish than ...


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