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

NAMING NAMES Frederick Seidel, Men and Woman (Chatto & Windus) £4.95 pb.
Philip Levine, Selected Poems (Secker & Warburg) £8.95
Galway Kinnell, Selected Poems (Secker & Warburg) £7.95
Florence Elon, Self-Made (Secker & Warburg) £5.95
Charles Bukowski, War All the Time (Black Sparrow) US$8.50

Unless it were Grey Gowrie ten or fifteen years ago, there is no one in Britain who writes or could write like Frederick Seidel: from an easy first-hand acquaintance with the great people and places and spectacles of his time. He is like Lowell with a mean streak; St Louis Jewish for Boston Brahmin; matching him Harvard for Harvard and New York for New York; and with money and power for Lowell's frog-like identifications with the princes of history - with a cast of movie stars, grand-prix riders, politicians and millionaires for the other's grand traditions of family and culture. 'Voilà donc quelqu' un de bien quelconque!' he says mockingly to the failed writer who is his subject in the vicious poem 'What One Must Contend With'. And all the men at least in Men and Woman are assuredly 'bien quelconque'. Or Seidel is like Patrick White, effortlessly conveying the impression of a man of the world, the half-disaffected half-insider, omniscient, discriminating and damaging. Is it a character in the ambisexual novel The Twyborn Affair or the author of Men and Woman who appraises the room in front of him like this: 'Some of the women here would be more use than most of the men'?

Seidel's subject is little less than the present condition of the world, private and public, acknowledged and unacknowledged. Narrowed down a little, it would be something like the oligarchy within American democracy, the 'first four hundred', even these further whittled down ...


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