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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

CHILLY AND GROWN UP Howard Nemerov, Inside the Onion (The University of Chicago Press) £8.45

Howard Nemerov has come a long way from the straining seriousness of his early work. This volume confirms that his later strength lies in the mask of witty cynicism and disaffection through which he looks askance not only at the absurdity of human life, but at the props that for most of us give it meaning. Religion, for example, is not only irrelevant - '. . . none of that God in the manger stuff for us' ('Total Immersion') - but can positively interfere in last sensual enjoyments:


Dear god, dear goddess, whether you exist
Or fail to exist, be not a trouble to us
Now in October when the cicadae climb
To the highest branches and sing themselves to death.
            ('Prayer of the Middle Class at Ease in Zion')


In a Lucretian spirit, Nemerov holds out now for moral truth unimpeded by religious belief, and several poems juggle the precarious smugness of still being alive with a sardonic resignation to the inevitability of a meaningless death. 'Lucretian Shadows', like Auden's 'Musée des Beaux Arts', explores the effects of death and disaster on the unharmed observers: the poet sees on television a shipping accident which results in 'A couple of fishermen in yellow slickers/Drowning as easy as falling off a log' whilst he lies 'Snug as a bug in a rug and warm as a worm,/Warm as a worm in the compost heap in winter'. The jokey ...


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