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

Shelf Lives: 8: Norman Nicholson Peter Scupham

I would make a poem
Solid as a stone, a thing
You can take up, turn, examine and put down;
Bred of the accident of rain and river,
Yet in its build as certain as a circle,
An axiom of itself.

The concluding stanza of 'Poem', written in 1949 and tucked into the unpublished, uncollected miscellany at the end of the Collected Poems (Faber and Faber, 1994), can stand as epigraph here for a particular kind of poetry, a poetry Norman Nicholson's best work exemplifies, though to write a poem whose build is as certain as a circle would be blue moon and festal day stuff for anyone. The poetry I am thinking of is the poetry where the tangible substances of the world, the vigorous and changing textures of stone itself, of pylon, ragwort and market clock, of wire netting and the Plough Inn remain themselves, strongly rebuilt by language defying its own transience and theirs. It is a poetry where the radioactive life of objects makes them shine in the dark, where, perhaps, we can recapture in the reading something of that physicality which makes childhood solid and foursquare, and where that particularity can be strengthened, but does not suffer transposition, does not constantly have to become a metaphor for something of more concern to the poet than itself. Stuff goes deep rather than becomes other: what is, matters for its being itself, an individual twist in time and ...


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