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This review is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

Norman MacCaig, Voice-Over, Chatto & Windus, £5.95 pb.
The poetry that comes out of old-age - for Norman MacCaig is 78 this year - often speaks at the same time, or in close view of the same experience, with a flayed vulnerability and with a sense (far less comforting this) of hardening of the palm, the ungivingness of what can be reached out for. What might, earlier on, have 'prompted' a poem now draws away into remove and a tyranny of the half-said, though the voice itself, as in Larkin's late pieces, may sound even more direct. In Voice-Over MacCaig is very clearly treading this arena:


Everything's in the distance,
as I am. I wish I could flip that distance
like a cigarette into the water.


But there are no grumbles, no postures, the words are placed 'without a tremor'. He sees men in a snowstorm: 'Are they digging on the inside / of a faulty TV screen? They make no sound / that can be heard'. Not everyone even bothers to go out in the storm, and from any armchair vantage-point the real things live inside the faulty screen, while the living viewer impersonates a muted adjunct to his own perceptions, a voice-over in fact.

In this collection MacCaig states often and simply his uncertainty about what is really being greeted in a poem and why:


I'm a man waiting to be ambushed.
Take time off to notice me, to step ...


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