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This review is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

FURTHER OUT AND DEEPER Burns Singer, Selected Poems, edited by Anne Cluysenaar, Carcanet, £2.90.

Perhaps the fact that he chose to work as a marine biologist accounts for the distinctness-at times daunting-of Singer's poetry. He dares to take on areas of experience which most of us would shrink from. We would rather stick to 'Safe Bathing' areas patrolled, as it were, by literary precedents, than allow ourselves to be lured further out and deeper.

`The Gentle Engineer' (its title suggests the Bobrowskian synthesis of sensitivity with science) is Singer's most ambitious poem,-a kind of ecstatic Startrek, or metaphysical odyssey, through the hard streets of a modern city. He begins by rejecting traditional signposts of myth and religion:


I do not know the gods . . .
Even in fictions
Visiting angels never
Gave explicit directions
On where lay my law-giver.


He comes to see himself as carrying, and carried by, nothing less than the whole evolutionary impetus of Nature-for instance in his confrontation with a snowflake:


        My taste buds surprise
Odorous sauces wrapt in the tang of a snowflake . . .
Immense intrigues embroider this instant with
The reactions of eras; pterodactyls lumber:
Ancient limpets are embossed on rock:
An oceanic sludge creeps into life:
The principals of matter find each other:
This flake and I converge from all beginnings.


(Mind-boggling! Much contemporary poetry seems pre-Darwinian by contrast.)

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