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

REPORTS FROM THE CRAFT SHOP John Whitworth, Poor Butterflies (Seeker) £4.95
Alistair Elliot, Talking Back (Seeker) £4.95
John Betjeman, Uncollected Poems (John Murray) £4.95

Two of these poets could conceivably be Poet Laureate. Alistair Elliot is the odd one out because he is too subtle, too elliptical and too much his own man.

John Whitworth might be in line to write the King William Accession Poem, but he'll have to leave The Gang first. Other members of The Gang are Michael Foley and Peter Reading, and the Gang Leader is Gavin Ewart. They're quite tough, and they go out with razors, slashing the faces of prissy poetasters and members of that other gang The Literary Establishment; when they slash faces they do it with great care, and they spend hours making the most exquisite patterns.

There's a pulse of gold throbbing away under Whitworth's brass neck, and the caring poems are the best ones in the book. 'Et In Arcadia Potter', for instance, in which a crotchety old teacher talks half to himself and half to his nasty pupil, Potter: 'Few things matter much. Most things don't matter/At all, said some old buffer once. Quite so./But human self-esteem is hard to shatter./Lord! It takes best part of a lifetime.' Whitworth spends too little time articulating this kind of pain and too much time lambasting the 'Grave diggers, brothel keepers, porters, ponces' at a 'Publisher's piss-up' ('Part Song for Indeterminate Voices').

Poems like Whitworth's (and the rest of The Gang's), carried on the crest of the Well-Made-Poem wave, will soon be very fashionable indeed, and the Penguin Laser ...


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