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

POETIC POISE, CRITICAL CHAOS G. S. Fraser, Poems, ed. Ian Fletcher and John Lucas, (Leicester University Press) £7.50
G. S. Fraser, A Short History of English Poetry (Open Books Publishing) £12.00, £5.95-pb

G. S. Fraser died in 1980. This first collected edition of his poems, while not claiming to be definitive, enables us to see his poetry as a whole. It invites us to the risk and responsibility of judgement upon a life's work.

Fraser skilfully employs a wide range of metrical and rhyme schemes, with a wealth of unobtrusive modulations. In a century of stridency, in poetry as in all else, he is a master of gentle cadences, but these never become too mellifluous or monotonous. His rhythmic poise is always assured.

He is not a poet of the vivid sensory moment, except occasionally, and then usually in memories of his native Aberdeen ('the sugary granite glittering crisp'). He never tries to disappear from his poems, to pretend that they offer raw, unmediated experience. We are constantly and agreeably aware of him shaping, discoursing and thinking. In his poetry, his 'thinking is a kind of feel' (a phrase from his poem on William Empson) and its sensuousness lies in his rhythms. Take his fine tribute to Paul Valéry, for example:


Narcissus needed mirrors to be real
But choked in merging with reality,
The mind, a single nowhere, swoons to feel
Its multilocal multiplicity.


It may seem strange that a man so fond of analysis, with such a poised poetic voice, should originally have been seen as a 1940s neo-Romantic. This collection clearly shows that Fraser ...


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