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This review is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

MIRRORS OF MELANCHOLY HUGO WILLIAMS, Billy's Rain (Faber) £7.99
ALAN JENKINS, The Drift (Chatto & Windus) £8.99

I admire both of these poets, but are they modern - or post-modern, come to that? Or are they simply throw-backs? - part and parcel of the convention that the twentieth century never existed, a convention that has strangled poetry in Britain since Graves came to be considered a better poet than Pound. I might resolve this matter by employing the Ashbery test. Williams rails against Ashbery - it's all grass-induced vapour to him. The transparency of words should effectively pin down a situation, however lepidopterously ephemeral that situation may be. Jenkins, on the other hand, is impressed by Ashbery, or has been in the past, doing an amusing interview with him in a national paper several years ago. However, after reading these collections, one may conclude that there is more modernism in Williams than there is in Jenkins.

On the face of it, neither is engaged in abstraction or linguistic innovation to the extent that distinguishes the work of J.H. Prynne or Tom Raworth; but then, too often, such endeavours have simply erected a new convention, an insistence on opacity, as exemplified by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets - thus engendering a practice as hidebound and ultimately academic (in the USA) as that of any leatherelbowed British caucus. Williams and Jenkins both partake of the essentially romantic inclination to make the confessional their mode of expression - so improving, or at least refining, their sense of themselves becomes as much the project as improving or refining the verse ...


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