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This report is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

Cliff Ashby Sean Haldane


Fingers can poke and pluck
Can pinch and prod,
Cleanse the nose and soul
Of dirt and sin.
Fingers can lie white worms
Upon a velvet couch.
Fingers can fumble in a feverish frenzy
Where the censor's mind
Would hesitate to enter.
The common view is that the mind
Controls the movement of these five,
This is, of course, not true,
Or looking at them now
I am all evil.
If I take a cleaver
And with a clean, quick stroke
Sever them at the knuckle
To lie five bleeding stumps
Upon the table,
Is my offence removed?
She has two hands that tear my heart in two.

This is by Cliff Ashby, one of whose volumes is called The Dogs of Dewsbury, and one of whose admirers, David Wright, wrote in the dust jacket blurb for his collection, Plainsong: 'His is the world of the intensely respectable petty bourgeois... the Methodist chapel up the road, the awful vase on the lace doily, trams grinding up Beeston Hill, the boozer...' But leaving aside, for the moment, Ashby's supposed world, what kind of poem is this?

Take it sentence by sentence. 1: quick and dirty description of what fingers can do to probe and cleanse body - and by extension what equivalent mental activities can do to the soul. 2: quick ...

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