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Monthly Carcanet Books

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

POET AND TOURIST Neil Powell, A Season of Calm Weather (Carcanet) £3.25

In the excitement of his discovery of his vocation even the gifted young poet may fall prey to the poem-about-the-writing-of-poetry, a kind of non-poem that not infrequently finds its way into a first collection. Such was the case with Neil Powell's At The Edge. But wasn't there a definite air of evasion about Powell's repeated insistence on the virtues of craftsmanship, clarity and formal discipline? But since in practice the poet's art manifestly fulfilled his requirements of it his persistent uncertainty in the handling of colloquial idiom could be charitably set aside as mere youthful self-consciousness. What seemed important was the overall technical accomplishment and this was - justly - applauded. And if any doubts lingered over Powell's capacity to outgrow his self-consciousness one had only to look at the small group of 'Suffolk Poems' of which Andrew Motion wrote in the TLS: 'the precarious sanctuary they describe is not only well wrought but also sufficiently aware of its potential disruption to bode well for his future development'. Here was a living isolation, a paradoxical haven of vulnerability among landscapes of thought and feeling that elsewhere seemed only noticeable in their stubborn reticences. Here, surely, Powell would be able to let fall the 'transparent suffocating blanket' identified in 'Four Quarters'. But though they contained some arresting images, the 'Suffolk Poems' seemed to come to represent a territory which Powell too readily assumed he had explored and as a poet grown up in:


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