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

LIVES AND LOVES W. G. Shepherd, Self-Love (Anvil Press) £3.50 pb.
J. D. McClatchy, Scenes from Another Life (Secker and Warburg) £5.50

Nobody could accuse W. G. Shepherd of being unhelpful to readers of his third volume of verse, Self-Love. His Foreword warns of poems which 'make little appeal to intellectual comprehension . . . do not cohere in a linear fashion so as to develop a rational overall statement'. Thus disarmed, what do we find? In part fulfilment of Shepherd's promise, they are certainly hard going: 'Blunt domestic paranoia demonstrates a materialism/Deeply at odds with economic control/of consumption . . .' Since this same leaden-footedness occurs in those poems where Shepherd does seem interested in making rational overall statements, there's nothing special here. In any case, it's not meant to make sense, and we can only assume its private significance to the poet. But he's not telling. This intellectual peek-a-boo is strange, given that so much else in the collection reveals with tawdry brazenness the problems of an ego in quest of a sexual identity. But Shepherd's Foreword forestalls us again: 'The hero of Guy is limited to masturbatory attitudes, i.e. he cannot transcend self-love.' No nonsense here, and the poem admirably lives up to the laboured explicitness of the prophecy. The problem with these dispiriting, unlovely tales of sexual fantasists is that they leave the reader with nothing to do; willy-nilly, one finds oneself cast in the unlooked for and unsavoury role of voyeur.

The pleasures of the American J. D. McClatchy's collection Scenes from Another Life are of a different order altogether, and so are its ...


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