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This review is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

RAINING SOUP MICHAEL DONAGHY, Collected Poems (Picador) and The Shape of the Dance (Picador)

Coiner of some of the most alluring first lines since early Auden, Michael Donaghy’s regrettably slender Collected Poems begins, con brio:

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike
                                                                        (‘Machines’)

Beyond the snap of their witty bathos, and the audacity of the comparison they draw, there is something disconcertingly offbeat about the movement and shape of these lines. They sound like an Augustan couplet, a balanced yet deflationary pay-off clinched by strong rhyme; but there are three lines instead, with no regular metre, and an odd syllable-count of 9-9-7. The effect is a bracing interplay between self-conscious formality and something more dryly colloquial, as though the narrator is putting on John Donne’s hat with a mock-theatrical flourish.

But like the old poets, Donaghy wants to assert his presence as a speaking voice (‘this talk’) addressing a ‘dearest’ for whom the reader must act as surrogate. A less interesting poet might have written ‘This harpsichord pavane’s like a twelve-speed bike’ but Donaghy wants to meet the reader halfway by asking us to participate in the process of generating the poem’s meaning, to note how the two are alike, not just that the poet says they are alike. This is part of a continual enquiry into the poetry’s own interactive gestures and how they stand to be interpreted, as well as a metafictive urge that aims to foreground the poem’s ...


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