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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

RADICAL CONSERVATION JOHN PECK, Collected Shorter Poems 1966-1996 (Carcanet) £14.95

'A keyboard stroll around the entire horizon of antiquity': Osip Mandelstam's words on Dante come to mind when I read Peck's poems. He works, like Mandelstam, as a 'rebuilder'. (As he shows in his allusive homage to Mandelstam's Octets in his 'Relay Octets' where he calls for 'the whole / keyboard with its totality of partials'. His lucid, reverent attention to the world and lightning strikes into 'world culture' exhibit a 'yearning' to retrieve and re-structure. His poems embody an awe in the face of what we owe and what we might lose. The moment and precepts of Acmeism (poet as builder or architect, 'thisworldness', a call for clarity, impersonality of material, allusiveness) and Imagism ('an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time') inform the variety of forms and methods displayed here. Mandelstam's metaphors to describe the effects and hopes of great poetry are often recast in Peck's work: essays such as 'Conversation About Dante', 'On the Nature of the Word' and 'Morning of Acmeism' gave this reviewer a way into Peck's poetry and a way back to the Mandelstam of 'Notre Dame', for example. A form of radical conservation is at work. Although neither poet allows the unceasing movements and energies of words and sound patterns to be subjugated to any paraphrasable 'message' they are both obliquely didactic in their revelation of the terrors and abuses of power that mark the history of the 'state' in its relation to artistic freedoms. Such resistances and retrievals, holding ...

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