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This review is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

IN THE GIVEN GARDEN Theodore Weiss, The Man from Porlock (Princeton University Press)
Kathleen Raine, The Inner Journey of the Poet (ed. Brian Keeble), (Allen & Unwin)

Stevie Smith would, she said, have welcomed him, the person from Porlock. Coleridge, who gave us the figure and who might conveniently have invented him, saw at very least the power and charm of the everyday interrupting the imaginary; the anecdote is as much part of 'Kubla Khan' as the poem's famous imagery. Poetry was, as Maritain saw, once merely an episode in the day to day history of work; 'works', in the literary sense, were a post-classical invention. One of the powers of the truly modern was the reappearance in literature of the very ordinary. It was this that lent Wordsworth his power, and Hardy, John Davidson, Clough, even Yeats. Wilfred Owen's 'unfinished' 'Strange Meeting' is delivered out of the hands of the mystical and strange and into the realm of necessity by 'Let us sleep now . . .', its metrically incomplete but rhetorically perfect concluding line.

Sadly, though, the everyday imposes pressures on the imagination which can be too strong to resist. In much modern poetry a dreadful prosiness took the place of real feeling. The toads all too often overran the garden.

Theodore Weiss, a card-carrying modernist, sees in the gap between English and American verse the heart of the issue. The great modernists (the great American modernists, he means) were willing to take on cultural wholes in a way that never occurred, so the usual argument runs, to their English compeers.

The Man from Porlock is a collection ...


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