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

RESCUED FROM INCONSEQUENCE Robert Wells, The Winter's Task (Carcanet), £2.00.

Heidegger's formulation of the radical problem of the modern poet, that he stands 'before' and not 'in' the world, may be taken as a signpost leading us into the poems of Robert Wells's first book, The Winter's Task. The world of the poems is usually represented by a rural landscape, either English or Italian: the poet, or his protagonist, observes or labours in the landscape. To observe is tacitly to acknowledge the truth of Heidegger's claim, the poet stands 'before' the landscape. But to labour? A great many of the poems deal with manual work in a rural setting. The 'task' of the title poem is ostensibly the clearing of a hillside of waste woodland. And there are other poems too that deal with clearing or clearing out, for instance 'The Mill', in which the poet works scraping away lime, unclothing the walls. The 'task' of the title is rich in implication: it is to clear ground, to clean away what is inessential, to come to a nakedness, and to attempt to know that nakedness. The poems in which the poet 'observes' merely acknowledge Heidegger's contention: but the 'task' of the poet is to move beyond this acknowledgement, to clear away what excludes the observer from the nakedness of the real and to come to an intimacy of knowledge.

In a couple of the early poems, Wells tries one of the traditional methods of the modern poet trapped in his excluding consciousness: a violent, frontal attack on ...


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