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This review is taken from PN Review 50, Volume 12 Number 6, July - August 1986.

METAPHYSICAL HUMANISM Not Comforts//But Vision: Essays on the Poetry of George Oppen (Interim Press, 3 Thornton Close, Budleigh Salterton, Devon) £5.40

This volume of essays, which aims at introducing British readers to the work of George Oppen, includes Michael Hamburger's early perceptive review of the out-of-print Fulcrum Collected Poems. That Oppen's work is now only available in American editions testifies to an under-valuation but, despite this neglect, eight British poet-critics here offer assessments of Oppen's work which range from 'very important' to 'major' and 'great'.

At any rate, Oppen must be viewed as a man of the greatest integrity: following his 1934 volume of pure Objectivist pieces, Discrete Series, he anxiously rejected the luxury of artistic creation to embrace the history of his times: left-wing welfare work, war service, and MacCarthyite exile. When he began to write again in the late 1950s, he produced a poetry of the greatest integrity, and also of contradictions: it was sparse, yet pointedly rhetorical; committed, yet never opinionated. As a number of the contributors here point out, he developed an epistemological method out of Imagist intensity (the mind superceding the eye, sight becoming insight). On one hand it was profoundly metaphysical, on the other it was pervasively humanist, concerned with 'the act of being' and 'the act of being/More than oneself.

John Freeman's concentrated phenomenological account of reading an Oppen poem offers a further dialectic: between passages of simple sensuality and those of textual opacity. The latter have the function of complicating assumed meanings, initially confusing the reader, yet finally delighting and illuminating him or her. Freeman acknowledges Oppen's profundity, ...


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