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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

INTUITION AND CONFUSION Merle E. Brown, Double Lyric: Divisiveness and Communal Creativity in Recent English Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1980) $20.00

Double Lyric concentrates on five poets-Geoffrey Hill, Jon Silkin, Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn and Charles Tomlinson-in pursuit of the late Professor Brown's thesis that their work depends on conflict, issuing in poems 'with more than one self-originative centre or self-world', 'in effect two persons, two ways of expressing and attending critically in dramatic, divisive conflict'. Bent on this general interpretation, with its under-pinning of neo-idealist theory derived from study of Italian aesthetics, he bends the poems to confirm it.

Brown tackles demanding poetry with a seriousness of intent and a passion for the act of reading that deserve respect: it is unfortunate that his approach often obscures his chosen texts. He offers first close readings of poems by Silkin, Tomlinson and Hill to demonstrate the ways in which each poet's overt attitude to his subject is opposed to his awareness of himself as shaper, 'listening to himself in the poem'. With capacity for self-criticism and dividedness as his yardstick, Brown measures Hill as the most vital of the three.

There are three chapters on Hill's poetry, based on a potentially interesting comparison with T. S. Eliot vitiated by Brown's insistence and his language: 'Hill holds Eliot close to himself, like Conte Ugolino the Arcivescovo Ruggieri, with a cruel, painful satisfaction'. Such an inflated simile is typical of Brown's manner, and is disastrous when he analyses 'The Songbook of Sebastian Arrurruz', of which he remarks 'such meticulous precision embodying such agony, there has probably been nothing ...


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