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This review is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

TUNING IN Philip Gross, Cat's Whisker (Faber) £9.95, £4.95 pb.

Philip Gross's second collection is aptly named: and the title poem, with which it opens, characteristically emphasizes the aural, settling finally on


         a crystal set, a family
bent close. Cack-rackle-hiss: a jumbling
rush of atmospherics... Then, haltingly
at first, this small voice, coming through.


Throughout the book it is the auditory rather than the visual which dominates. Verbs and nouns of sound run throughout, with a marked preference for such as whack, shudder, whump, thrash, rack, crack, crump, thump - strong, often onomatopoeic and monosyllabic, aimed at the maximum of precision and exactness. The pinpointing of detail is indeed a central part of this poet's gift, and if the lines quoted above ('this small voice') suggest the kind of modesty echoed in the final poem in the book, then between these bookends there are some highly accomplished and confident poems exhibiting an impressive range and relish which the reader enjoyably shares. This is not just a matter of exactness, as in 'Tar Boilers' ('... the dribbly / cauldron gulps. Volcanic gloss-black slurry / nudges down the shute, rank, / steaming like fresh manure,'), but of memorable phrases as well - cartridges 'like dull brassy lipstick', God possibly as a 'grizzle-thighed games-master', or this marvellous description (at the end of 'Tabernacle Yard') of 'one sidelong mean Alsatian' - 'It smiles humbly, with its teeth'. Gross is impressive on other counts, too - a subtle use of rhyme and rhythm, ...


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