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This review is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND RESERVATIONS Ronald Bottrall, Against a Setting Sun (Allison & Busby) £4.95pb.
Elizabeth Bartlett, Strange Territory (Harry Chambers/Peterloo Poets) £3.00pb.
Laurence Lerner, Selected Poems (Secker & Warburg) £7.95
Janet Caird, A Distant Urn (Ramsay Head Press), £3.95
Tessa Ransford, Fools and Angels (Ramsay Head Press) £4.95

The General Hash Theory of literary criticism is not dead; it sleeps unsoundly in the universities disguised as the Figure in the Carpet or the English Liberal Dilemma. Yet the GHT, prodded until it blinks awake, remains a serviceable creature. Indeed its virtues are covertly espoused even by its furious post-Structuralist heirs. Developed under its auspices, for example, are the notions that 'a good poem' is a poem that employs an integrity of language not evident in a lesser poem; that a poem is amenable to fairly detailed description through some knowledge of what used to be called philology; and that 'style' reflects a personal choice (pace Belsey) made by the poet from the 'relentless fecundity' of the English language. Above all - and here the GHT and recent critical theory seem to part company in current practice - the business of criticism is with description, not prescription.

The virtues of the GHT are lost on Terry Eagleton who, concluding his reviews for a recent number of Stand (Winter 1983-4, p.80), sums up Clive Wilmer's Devotions as follows: 'Conservative, Christian, and utterly without the sordid smack of the social, Mr. Wilmer is, in the fullest sense of the word, a Carcanet poet.' Eagleton seems to imply that 'Conservative' and 'Christian' are not features of what he calls the 'social'. This is a curious position to take, unless he means 'the Socialist' - which is what I suspect. The important point is this: that Eagleton appears to have ...


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