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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

A NAME TO CONJURE WITH Tom Raworth, Tottering State: Selected and New Poems 1963-1983 (The Figures, Berkeley) $11.50. (U.K. distribution: Paul Green. 83b London Road, Peterborough, Cambs.)

The title of Tottering State looks both inside and outside the poet. Puns of that order recur over the twenty years covered by this book, at once estranged and dryly humorous. However, further kinds of doubleness inhabit the poems: in a TLS review of Raworth's book-length poem Writing (not represented here), Colin MacCabe remarked on a tension amounting to opposition between 'the voice, which constantly places the self, and writing, which offers the possibility of a continual displacement'. This is most vividly the case in Raworth's long poems of recent date such as Ace, and 'West Wind' - a superb poem, previously uncollected - with which this selection concludes. In the enigmatic columns of this recent work the reader is confronted by what is to say the least a


It is carried without a pause over pages: there are rarely four words to a line; punctuation and capital letters, including the sacrosanct 'I', are ostracized. There is indeed, to take up MacCabe's point, a creative friction between the poem's resemblance to a human voice and the pages' equally strong resemblance to a computer print-out. We are left unsure as to whether the poem is the articulation of a consistent personality (extended syntax) or the recording of a blitzkreig of voices and stimuli from outside. Further tension arises from our uncertainty as to whether the perpetual displacements of the second are Utopian or ...

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