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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

SPICING THE BITTER Tom Paulin, Liberty Tree (Faber and Faber). £4.00.

TOM Paulin's utopia is emphatically of the latter-day; it can only be hinted at by a series of negative definitions. These, which happen also to be 'the state of things as they are', make up the bulk of his new book: post-imperial deposits, Khomeini's Iran, Jaruzelski's Poland, Northern Ireland and again Northern Ireland. Against these sombre names, Paulin persists in dreaming of a 'risen République' - modest, enduring - the newly-sprung juniper tree which turns out to be the Liberty Tree of the title. And while he dreams of it as a united Ireland, it is only the localization of an obsessive vision that has exercised his mind and sharpened his poetry from the start.

I used the word 'obsessive' advisedly for obsessive he is about the warpings of politics and history. Those who value Paulin most of all for his 'asides', that is, for those poems that do not apparently engage with politics and history directly (poems like 'In a Northern Landscape' from his first book and 'The Harbour in the Evening' or 'A Lyric Afterwards' from his second) might well find Liberty Tree unremittingly arid. But then aridity is what the book is largely about. How often his poems start in the blankest times of day, the dead hours! 'At noon, in the dead centre of a faith . . .'; 'In a middling hour, Wednesday's raw afternoon . . .'; 'Banal hours in muggy weather . . .'; 'A pierrepoint stretch, mid-afternoon . . ...


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