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

THE SMALL VERSE Anthony Barnett, Fear and Misadventure; Mud Settles, Ferry Press, 1977.

Both as editor and as poet, Anthony Barnett has always stood on the side of the island which faces the continent. He is one of the few contemporary English writers to have learnt from a European tradition-in particular from the work of Paul Celan and Edmond Jabès.

Fear and Misadventure, the first sequence in his latest book, explores a mode of writing which one might term "dialectical lyric", a mode developed in different ways by Celan and Jabès. The first movement of dialectic is negation; a thesis generates its own antithesis and thus negates itself. Sartre argued that all knowledge is dialectical to the extent that the person who knows, knows that he is not the object of his knowledge; the subject discovers the world as his antithesis and himself as a lack (as negativity). Dialectical lyric stages the drama of the "adverting mind", in Shelley's phrase, the mind turned toward a "vastness" which reveals it to itself as a lack: disenfranchised, internally riven. Its characteristic form might be described as a militant slightness:


The small verse
breaches
because of the enclosure,
but, not the sense. ("Fear and Misadventure", p.34)


Every word uttered by the lyric voice sets a limit, announces the inability of that voice to say all there is to say; it is this limit which resonates, giving full sense to insufficiency. Like the earlier Blood Flow (1975), Fear and Misadventure bears comparison with ...


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