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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

SUGARED SPEECH AND PLAIN: AMERICAN CHAPBOOKS Turner Cassity, The Defense of the Sugar Islands ($35);
Edgar Bowers, Witnesses ($22.50);
Charles Gullans, Imperfect Correspondances ($5);
Charles Gullans, Many Houses ($40);
Janet Lewis, The Birthday of the Infanta ($25);
John Espey, The Empty Box Haiku ($30) all published by The Symposium Press.
Raymond Oliver, To Be Plain (Robert L. Barth) n.p.
The Chimera Broadsides (Chimera Books-Matrix Press) n.p.

Anyone who hazards a public guess as to the subject of a sequence by Turner Cassity is asking for trouble. Here goes: The Defense of the Sugar Islands seems (ha!) to be a series of vignettes of military life set in the Caribbean; the prevailing tone is of a louche highly self-conscious boredom played out in surroundings of outre tropical splendour and squalor-an orchidaceous hybrid of, say, Firbank's Prancing Nigger and John Fuller's The Illusionists. This until the last two poems which bring us suddenly forward to a mind clawed by nostalgia and regret for the world the earlier poems celebrate. Cassity's recorded regard for Kipling (the ironies of colonial life set down in a tight-lipped, wisecracking verse written with metrical panache and finality resembling a guillotine's chop) mingles with Wallace Stevens's versions of a sub-tropical vivifying dream-so that the real 'Sugar Islands' blur into a hedonist's country of the heart homesick for exoticism. The poems are a heady mixture of yearning and irony, ineluctable passion and dandified wit. The incidental felicities are many ('Ex-draftee, blitz your brass and square your tie. /Whoever lives, at your age, lives a lie')-but Mr Cassity himself escapes, as I'm sure he would wish, into allusion and illusion.

To a reader unfamiliar with Edgar Bowers's poetry his 'Witnesses' (PNR 20) might prove almost as elusive as Turner Cassity's Sugar Islands. In tone and subject matter they are close to his 'Autumn Shade' sequence, and taking that as our starting point we ...

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