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

WITHOUT GUILE Edgar Bowers, Living Together: new and collected poems (Carcanet), £2.90.

In an early poem of Bowers-"Oedipus at Colonus"-we have a statement of what many critics have taken to be the central preoccupation of twentieth-century American poetry:


the intellect
Measures archaic, fugitive defect,
The blind cost, and compulsion, meaningless.


This could almost be from Wallace Stevens, we seem to hear the "blessed rage for order", the mind that organizes and transfigures the chaos of the natural world. But reading in Bowers we soon notice a radical difference: there are no supreme fictions (there are no fictions), there are no necessary angels (there are no angels) and it is not the imagination that conforms the world but the intellect; the mind does not remake the world but measures it. If we are to continue a comparison with Wallace Stevens it must be not with the flamboyant, mythic Stevens but with the austere and rarer Stevens of a poem like "The Snowman" in which the poet "nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." To return to the opening quotation from Bowers: the word "defect" is a moral word, "cost" and "compulsion" suggest suffering-the world which Oedipus measures in this poem is the world of his own self, his history and being, the chaos of the microcosm. And the stanza ends with the blank deliberate awkwardness of what is understood, the microcosm is "meaningless". The poems here collected cover twenty years and Bowers's themes change and develop, but ...


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