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

CLOGGED WITH THE WORLD Norman MacCaig, Collected Poems (Chatto & Windus/Hogarth Press) £9.95

Norman MacCaig needs to be read with a certain empathy to be fully understood and enjoyed. His poetry eschews the general and the abstract in favour of the particular and the concrete, and rarely bothers to look far beyond what the naked eye can see. His cool and steely view of life subjectively seen, felt, thought, is at times close to that of Wordsworth's sense of things 'feelingly watched'. And that subjectivity is given objective shape on the page through conscious craft and, surprisingly, a deft use of the Augustan weapon of wit. 'I'm clogged with the world. It grips me,/I hold it' is how a late poem puts it.

MacCaig's early poems appeared in The White Horseman (Routledge, 1941) but none of these early pieces is included in his Collected Poems. Like his contemporary W. S. Graham, he learned to move from a curious verbiage (influenced perhaps by Finnegans Wake) toward a pared-down simplicity of diction: as in the celebrated 'Summer Farm':


Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse-trough shines.
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.


This 1950s precursor of the 'Martian' metaphoric style still reads well today, because of MacCaig's eye for the unexpected image and juxtaposition (a later poem has 'The black cow is two native carriers/Bringing its belly home, slung from a pole'). But poems ...


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