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This article is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

The Poet's Grandmother and other dilemmas John Ash

Some notes on Christopher Middleton's The Pursuit of the Kingfisher (Carcanet) £14.95


The writing that enacts imagination, specifically lyrical imagination, communicates infinitely more than a message conceived as a pack of words handed over for congruent redistribution.
from 'Introductory Afterthoughts'


I would like to begin these notes, somewhat paradoxically, with a personal anecdote. (Just why such a beginning should be paradoxical will soon become clear.) Some months ago I read a review of my book The Branching Stairs. The reviewer spent most of his time discussing a long poem called The Bed. A grandmother is an important figure in this poem. She is given to secret apple-eating, surrealist story-telling and mysterious, inconsolable attacks of grief. She bears about as much relationship to any real grandmother I have ever known as Mother Goose. The reviewer seemed to like the poem but had no qualms about describing this strange figure as 'the poet's grandmother'. I nearly leapt out of my seat. How loudly do you have to shout with Rimbaud 'Je est un autre'? It is especially frustrating if - as I had done in The Bed - you have taken the extreme precaution of excluding the first person singular entirely. But no, a poem, it would seem, cannot be accepted as a work of imagination, as an artefact which has at least an autonomous relationship to the facts of the poet's life. My reviewer was not stupid or malicious, he simply ...


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