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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

A REVIVING GLASS OF PORTER Peter Porter, Collected Poems (Oxford) £12.50

Peter Porter has been writing prolifically for some twenty years now. Anyone with a passing knowledge of contemporary British verse has read some of his poems - and yet, and yet . . . he hasn't been granted the 'major' status that has been generally awarded to Hughes and Larkin, and he is probably ranked somewhat below Thom Gunn. These literary league tables are invidious of course, and posterity rarely agrees with them. Since most people seem to like their seriousness writ large, perhaps Porter is merely the victim of his own wit? If people have tended to underestimate Porter's
seriousness it has to be said that he has made it very easy for them to do so: more blatantly than any poet of comparable skill, he presents his art as bourgeois diversion and consolation. There are social poems, occasional poems, satirical poems; the book is full of vignettes, seductive snapshots (mostly from Italy), and essays in art (especially music) appreciation. The titles alone suggest a pursuit of sophistication bordering on the frantic - 'My Late T'ang Phase', 'Fantasia On a Line of Stefan George', 'La Déploration Sur La Mort d'Igor Stravinsky', 'Baroque Quatrains dedicated to James Fenton', and so on. This may be because Porter came from Australia at a time when the place was still generally considered a bad joke - philistinism's backward abyss. He seems to have determined to outdo his pommie contemporaries with a defensive display of acerbic brilliance and cultural omniscience. I see ...

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