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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

MUSHROOM JOY George MacBeth, The Long Darkness (Seeker & Warburg) £5.95

Like Poems from Oby in 1982, George MacBeth's latest collection mostly contains poems of quiet celebration, poems that reflect on MacBeth's East Anglian contentment or meditate lightly on death, birth, and other poetic subjects. In the very first poem he tells us that he is thinking of Cowper; obediently attuned, we read the next fifty-odd pages aware of the presence of a lot of poetry with occasionally a tough thought about mortality to stir up the bucolic complacency. It is a very dull read. A number of the poems - 'A Thrush', 'The Mole', 'A Crane-Fly', 'Mushrooms' and so on - show MacBeth in gentle naturalist mood; the word for these poems is pleasant. They are slight, inoffensive, civil, chatty in a mellow way, and tired; only the calm formal control redeems the predictable vocabulary.

Here, for example, is MacBeth being pleasant, and poetic in an understated way, in 'Mushrooms', halfway through:


Such wayward names! A reticence of lore
In Roman excellence! Boletus (cep)
    Under a sycamore
   Or is it only lawyer's wig
Or a wood blewitt in full, curling fig?


Damned if I know. But reading about it is ever so comfy. So comfy we hardly pause to ask why on earth MacBeth needed to write a poem about it. This is the next stanza:


I scarcely know, or care. In mushroom joy
I wander down my wood, and ...


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