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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

THE REAL WORST OF HORROR Alan Brownjohn, Collected Poems (Secker and Warburg) £8.95

The case against Alan Brownjohn, even (or especially) after reading these two hundred poems, remains unpleasantly easy to make. His is one of those names - others are Abse, Beer, Causley, Holbrook, Joseph, Scannell, Thwaite or Wright - that immediately suggest PEN or Arts Council anthologies and prompt involuntary yawns: unfairly, of course, since all of these writers have their individual strengths. But taken together their names are sleep-provoking. This is because all of them, even those whose careers began earlier, are still visibly suffering from Sixties' damage; they resemble schoolmasters who have clung to the pedagogic programmes they learnt in their first departments, and now that they are the heads of their establishments still prate in the same tone. Sixties' damage in Brownjohn produces clumping first-person ironies such as the ending of 'Peter Daines at a Party':


And here I am with not quite all their gaps
In my knowledge of all these high-powered chaps,
Doing well with the female population
And their limited but charming conversation.


Sixties' damage produces bad syllabics (`Taking Amanda back to St Winefride's') and a sestina ('Sestina in Memoriam Vernon Watkins') which fails for an unusual reason: its six terminal words are chosen from a predominantly adverbial and adjectival range which ought to be less conspicuous but in fact has the effect of alerting the reader to the poet's lack of daring. Sixties' damage produces the unrelenting belief that poetry must recount ...


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