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This article is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

Definition and Flow Clive Wilmer

Jack Straw's Castle, Faber, £3.25.

IN THAT most ingratiatingly eclectic of Penguin anthologies, British Poetry since 1945, Edward Lucie-Smith writes, 'Around 1960, it sometimes seemed as if all the poetry being written in England was being produced by a triple-headed creature called "LarkinHughes-Gunn". Of this triumvirate, it is Gunn who has worn least well.' Here Lucie-Smith shows himself an accurate mirror of trends-though no critic. It is true that Gunn's reputation has declined, but I believe that the 'stylistic uncertainties' Lucie-Smith goes on to deplore are signs of Gunn's willingness to expand his poetic range beyond the limits of such fashions as brought him fame and, in so doing, to embrace certain unavoidable contradictions which determine the character of contemporary poetry. The most obvious technical feature of Gunn's work since the onset of his 'decline' has been the clear distinction he has drawn between poems in traditional metres and poems in free verse (or, originally, syllabics). Modern poets have tended to be either combative about their adoption of 'open' forms or else rather laxly indulgent about occasional departures from metrical regularity. Gunn has long insisted that the forms and rhythms of free verse are different in kind from those of traditional verse. In other words, he sees the technical innovations of modernism as having broadened the range of English poetry; they have in no way superseded the traditional forms, though often they have qualified our understanding of them. In the introduction to his selection of Ben Jonson's ...


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