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This review is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

CONVICTION Cliff Ashby, Plain Song: Collected Poems 1960-1985 (Carcanet) £9.95

This welcome collection of Cliff Ashby brings together between hard covers 125 poems written in the past quarter-century. The poems are in chronological order of composition: quite a number of previously printed poems are omitted, but there is enough Ashby here to satisfy those who already have a taste for his poems. This collection should also attract new readers hungry for poetry which has some bite in it. There is a passionate energy here which is free of unnecessary clutter, intellectual pretension, wilful obscurity. Here is a poetry which does not smell of the study, which is impatient of: '... pap and pobbies/Neatly writ - but very bland' ('Unpopular Opinions').

Ashby seems to write, for the most part, under a lot of emotional pressure, and many of his poems spring from genuine surprises, fears, and confusions. But central to his work is a pervasive sense of ultimate loneliness and spiritual desolation:


Lord, I am lonely
And the sun is shining,
Listless, while the wind
Shakes the ageing leaves.
The harvest has been gathered
All is bagged and barned,
Silos burst with grain.
      Why, Lord, must I still stand
Dropping blind seeds
On to a barren soil?


These lines, from 'A Stranger in This Land', have the nervous fluency of a man anxious for reasons. Many of Ashby's poems have about them this same restlessness of spirit. There is intense feeling ...


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