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Monthly Carcanet Books

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

IN ORDER AND DISORDER Valentine Penrose, Poems and Narrations, translated by Roy Edwards (Elephant Trust with Carcanet), £3.00.

Almost thirty years ago, at the instigation of Herbert Read, I took a folio of drawings to show Roland Penrose at his home on Downshire Hill. The house was full of paintings by Ernst, de Chirico and Picasso, and as Penrose had to leave for an appointment, he invited me to stay behind to look at the pictures. I was told to close the door when I left-close, not lock: this was the pastoral era before that more than Neapolitan light-fingeredness had overtaken the nation. I had never previously seen de Chirico and Ernst in the original, and their presence here, among the leaves of Hampstead, seemed doubly disquieting. The poems and narrations of Penrose's French wife, Valentine-one of them celebrates that same house and street-are of an equally mysterious presence.

The book reprints a selection of poems with helpful face-à-face versions by Roy Edwards. Three prose works are given but only in English and one of them in extract. Edwards briefly sketches in the life of this arcane writer and his account contains the following instance of a striking paranoic-critical image:


A certain Colonel, hero of Verdun, owned a splendid horse who was accustomed to bite the shoulders of those who passed his stable. The Colonel requested his batman to buy the cook a gigot, to walk past the stable door bearing the joint on his shoulder. The horse snapped at the burning meat and was cured thereafter of his habit. This ...


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