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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

NOTES FROM THE WOODSHED Carol Ann Duffy, Standing Female Nude (Anvil) £3.95 pb.
William Radice, Louring Skies (Anvil) £3.95 pb.
Tom Pickard, Custom & Exile (Allison & Busby) £4.00 pb.
Omar Pound, The Dying Sorcerer (Tarlane Editions) US $7.95 pb.
Paul Durcan, The Berlin Wall Café (The Blackstaff Press) £4.95 pb.
Christopher Reid, Katerina Brac (Faber) £3.95 pb.

Is there really something nasty in the woodshed? Is the woodshed itself nasty and, if so, should we knock it down and build a garage? John Ash's recent remarks on convention, nostalgia and English poetry (PNR 47) may lead to the suspicion that the woodshed of structured words which has occupied a corner of the cultured English garden for, well, over a thousand years actually, is by now pretty soggy and rotten. But before we reach for the axe, it is worth briefly reconsidering what constitutes literary convention and tradition. Is it the case that 'convention' - Ash mentions one of many - is inherently artificial and restricting? Does it, of its own nature, lead to that 'mendacity' of which Ash complains? Is it true that the English poetic tradition is 'enfeebled' precisely because it consists of a diachronic perspective on synchronic states of artificiality and restriction? Has the 'reedy, solo voice . . . practising the monotonous scales of its "feelings"' really been singing for so long?

The answer to each of these questions - perhaps with the exception of the last - is, I think, a qualified 'no'. Convention is not necessarily an enclosure and a snare. In this connection I tend to think of what has come to be known as the Alliterative Style. This style lasted nearly a thousand years - indeed, traces of it remain still - and yet its basic constitution remained relatively constant: a long line of four major or ...


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