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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

'UNGUARDED SOLITUDES' Michael Hamburger, Selected Poems (Carcanet) £4.95.

Michael Hamburger's Collected Poems came out four years ago, and any serious consideration of his poetry should deal with that volume. The interest of a selection is that it permits a more vivid image of the meaning of the poetic career as such, and if that image is truthful it is a good, convenient thing to have. When a poet makes his own selection one is in no position to complain even if it seems to be wrong, for it still has the virtue of showing what he thinks he has been up to. In this case, however, the selection has been left to four people, 'two friends, two close relatives', in the hope that a balanced, non-eccentric, true picture of his work would emerge; and this has happened. I have been reading his poems at intervals for some years, but now for the first time I feel I have grasped what he has been doing in his poetry. That is something to be grateful for.

The first thing I noticed was not the seriousness of the poetic vocation, since that has always been clear, but the resistance implied in his dedication to poetry from the very start. The early poems given here are all about that, and although such a concern in a young poet is often merely the result of having nothing else yet to write about, in Hamburger's case it is the full apprehension of the difficulty of writing poetry (even the shame, the ...


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