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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.


The new Collected Poems of Elizabeth Jennings celebrated her sixtieth birthday, her courageous survival and fertile vein as a poet, and a triumph of integrity. In the course of more than thirty years she has often been insulted by modish critics, but her public has remained faithful, and increased, and she has fans where the rest of us have quizzical readers. This is a success she richly deserves, because she has chosen to spend a lifetime writing honestly about what is important, and in spite of years of mental illness spiced with financial affliction, the core of her poetry has been as steady as a rock, and her technical mastery has slowly but continually increased, though it started from the high standards of her Movement poems of 1953.

Perhaps she was never a central member of the Movement; perhaps no one was, and its centre was a severely stated void. But she had its best qualities of realism and severe elegance, unflabby feelings, unflabby language, thought under analytic tension. In her 1967 Collected Poems she reprinted twenty-two poems from her 1953 volume, but now we get only twelve. They do embody the essence of her early achievement, but I am glad to have the fuller collection. One does not need a poet to be stainless or faultless, and early poems can be moving even in their imperfection. But all her poetry gives an impression of strength to which imperfections of thought or feeling have been rigorously sacrificed, ...

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