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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

CHOOSING TO MAKE SENSE Arnold Rattenbury, Dull Weather Dance (Peterloo) £3.00

The title of this collection is singularly appropriate, for the contradiction it suggests is both enacted in the poems and embedded in the use of 'dance' as a noun when its source in the words of John Clare employs 'dance' as a verb: such a syntactical substitution, both serious and playful, is characteristic of the author's poetic stance. Arnold Rattenbury is one of those poets in middle age who started publishing late, and whose work responds uneasily to the dissolutions of meaning that are alleged to mark our times. His poems both acquiesce in this assertion and rage against it.

Stylistically this is evident in the opening poem, whose couplets rhyme in defiance of syntactical propriety, cutting across one's expectation of prose meaning. 'We cannot choose the place where we/Are born, nor our heredity/But start from others' choices what-/Ever it is that we have got/That is ourselves; cannot define a/Man by some old-fangled China/Of his birth-'. Browningesque rhymes, verbal coinages (one line later there occurs 'mabinogious as Wales') impart a sense of frivolity, which is in turn offset by the jerkiness consequent on the omission of expected end-stops: the verses do anything but flow. Elsewhere the lyrical impulse towards verbal melody falls foul of a sardonic self-awareness, and rounds upon itself: the poems oscillate between a recognition of positive values to be affirmed and the fear of talking claptrap. At times this makes for a feeling of frustration, powerfully conveyed, for instance, in 'Harry is Dead, and ...


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