PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Alberto Manguel Selbstgefühl New poems by Fleur Adcock, Claudine Toutoungi and Tuesday Shannon James Campbell A Walk through the Times Literary Supplement
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This review is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

LIBERTIES TAKEN David Harsent, Dreams of the Dead, OUP, £2.50.
Peter Scupham, The Hinterland, OUP, £1.95.
Gavin Ewart, No Fool Like an Old Fool, Gollancz, £2.95.
Anne Stevenson, Enough of Green, OUP, £2.25.
Iain Crichton Smith, In the Middle, Gollancz, £2.95.
Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Mother Poem, OUP, £2.95.
Frank Ormsby, A Store of Candles, OUP, £1.95.
Sebastian Barker, On the Rocks, Martin Brian and O'Keeffe, £2.00.

"Contrived" has always been one of the most damning epithets that can be applied to a poem. A history of hostile reactions to innovative writing would show that objection is usually taken not just to its imagined "ugliness", "disorder" or "obscurity", but to its "calculated ugliness", its "deliberate disorder", its "wilful obscurity". And when the pejoratives of mental predetermination are exhausted, critics reach instead for the pejoratives of physical exertion: "forced", "laboured", "strained", "overworked". There is little evidence that critics, or indeed poets, of today think any differently from their predecessors; three-quarters of a century later Yeats's sentiments in "Adam's Curse" are still largely accepted:

I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.'

It seems odd, though, that we should take the view that Yeats did. What he meant by a contrived poem was a poem that fails to conceal the effort involved in its making. But since Yeats we have become used-in fiction, in drama, in film-to the foregrounding of artistic process. We have learnt to value works which break the illusion of reality and remind us that they have been made. The suggestion that poems should conceal the evidence of the work that has gone into them, of the sources from which they were drawn, and of the genres to which they belong, might be seen as little more than ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image