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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

HELLUVA HARD TAY READ TOM LEONARD, outside the narrative: Poems 1965-2009 (etruscan books; Word Power Books)

The difficulty which this reviewer encountered in getting physical hold of a copy of this collection is part of its interest. (No mainstream for me, it screams.) So too is outside the narrative’s unrelentingly punitive capacity to render its discussion both in serious poetry publications and in academic contexts pretentious and vain. Tom Leonard is difficult. But who is he to presume that his readers are not also difficult and have chosen to live with their difficulties in different ways? Is there finally something suspect about making art out of impasse, about telling a story, again and again, about being outside the narrative? outside the narrative rides defiantly for a fall, asking for the response ‘tell me about it’ - i.e. don’t. outside the narrative is articulate insolence. But does it too readily presume that its readers are either established in dumbness or out with the outcrowd? Its unrelenting anger will rarely allow a flicker of generosity, for fear such a moment might be sentimental or daft or saft or too light on its feet. Hence as it boots prejudices out of the front door, it lets equally ugly prejudices coyly in round the back. Impasse.

Passing on, Leonard is undoubtedly one of the few writers, perhaps the only writer - in the over-populated eco-kailyard of contemporary Scottish poetry - of unquestionable importance. He writes about those born into the working class and gets them (or us?) right… or left… but certainly accurate… or accurately uncertain. Tony ...


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