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

A NECESSARY BIAS Lawrence Durrell, Selected Poems, ed. Alan Ross (Faber), £1.50.

It is reasonable that this selection of Lawrence Durrell's poems should be made up entirely of Alan Ross's personal choices. Durrell's poetry is still sufficiently neglected to leave room for the editor's individual approach, without him risking charges of self-assertion should he omit to include anthology pieces.

In this country, Durrell is placed as the remote, conspicuous expatriate. And apart from the wartime periodical Personal Landscape, which temporarily associated him with other poet-exiles such as Keith Douglas and Bernard Spencer, he has always remained self-enclosed, even though as a novelist he enjoys popularity and serious attention. Of course, the novels do not draw potential audience away from the poetry, or overshadow it, but it is worth making this distinction; that the novels gain space and time in which to substantiate their claims of experience, while the lyrics more often seek to evoke truth, and evoke it by means of sacramental symbolism or a high degree of allusiveness, and more generally in a rather calculating search for what T. E. Hulme calls the "exact curve" in language. When they succeed they are impressive as well-wrought poems, possessing all that could be asked of atmosphere and self-sufficiency: more than simply affairs with words, they have the final authority of experience, the true "vers donée". But they tread a delicate line and do sometimes fall to the evocation of nothing except an unmysteriously vague landscape. This is perhaps why they have been seen as issuing from the better realized worlds ...


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