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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.THE ARTICULATION OF THINGS, FEELINGS
David Wright, W. S. Graham, George Barker and John Heath-Stubbs are poets who share more than just a collective education at what David Wright has recently called 'the university of Soho' in and around the area of London once known as Fitzrovia. They have in common a view of poetry as a formal celebration which demands a single-minded seriousness from the poet towards poetry, both as craft and as a form of truth telling. These contemporaries feature prominently but unobtrusively in the too few pages of Metrical Observations, Wright's recent collection. 'Zennor Revisited', a sequence of poems looking back in time to a stay in Cornwall, describes George Barker: 'He's like his words, bound in a spell/Respondent, irresponsible,/Unserious to be serious'. Burns Singer the poet, Bryan Wynter the painter, and W. S. Graham appear in the poem 'under a particular blue sky'. W. S. Graham is celebrated elsewhere in the book with a poem 'For his Sixtieth Birthday' with: 'We own what we remember./ What we own is elate'. Wright owns what he remembers in 'Zennor Revisited' and his elation is that of revisiting and making poems from his own past. The book is dedicated to John Heath-Stubbs.
Metrical Observations (Wright claims that this is the best description of his poems) starts with a visit to South Africa, where he was born. 'Notes on a Visit' is a sequence recording impressions and experiences connected with a visit home. The personable directness of tone and address are characteristic: 'I landed at Jan Smuts at noon;/A cousin met, and drove me home;/The early summer smiled/Where I was born, and am exiled'. Years ago Wright claimed that 'the octosyllabic verse and I/Have never hit it off together', a comment disproved by the ease with which the form is handled here. Many poems in the book record personal experiences and communicate them to the reader or a named individual in this way. 'A Letter from Westmorland', addressed to Isabella Fey, is again in his conversational octosyllabic line, and again about Africa, but this time viewed in retrospect from England: 'Yet since what's hardest to recall/Are moments of the now and gone/-The extenuative banal-/How can an elsewhere-written letter/Bring you my news of Africa,/Of the valid ordinary/Things that go on going on?' Elsewhere in the poem 'the extenuative banal' is called 'the commonplace continuous' from which comes Wright's sense of what he calls 'the quotidian miracle' of elder trees 'puddled white/With new bloom of another year'. His desire and ability to record 'the valid ordinary/Things that go on going on' seeks to make the ordinary surprising. Like Patrick Kavanagh, Wright sees the commonplace and everyday as magical if looked at with the right balance of emotion and observation. In an earlier book we find: 'And on slight things set verses down:/All that I felt that I could say'-two lines which reward careful thought. Wright's are in fact ambitious and subtle poems which require close attention if they are to yield the full complexity of their thought and feeling.
'London Recollections' is a sequence based on memories of wartime London. The poems focus on specific events, people and places with a sharp eye for the telling visual detail which can recreate atmosphere. His experience of V J. Day is scrupulously recollected:
My No. 19, wedged in at the Circus,
Halted beside the Eros pedestal
Still boarded over. Dusty sunlight flickered.
A flutter of torn paper drifted from
The windows of some fourth-floor offices.
The armistice, I guessed; we'd had the bomb;
War's over, so must be celebrated . . .
What 'the bomb' brought about 'must be celebrated', but its existence brings no pleasure at all-suggesting an evaluation of the morality of technology. If his perception of the visionary in the everyday can be called romantic, then this side of him shows a sober realist.
Wright obviously is drawn to individuals and places and the relationships which exist between the two. Metrical Observations includes a 'Lament for MacDiarmid' in which the poet is remembered in his home town of Langholm ; and also one for 'Caleb Barnes', a village schoolmaster after whom a seat was inscribed as a memorial overlooking a favourite view: 'Because we loved the same neglected place/I feel I know the man I never met'. 'Badger', a poem noticeably without the definite article, is a memorable and understated elegy on a badger and comments on the destruction of natural life by man through the image of the creature found dead by the roadside. 'A dead bundle at hedge-foot,/A black and white burliness/Belly-up, laid beside tarmac:/At last we meet. Here he is.' The sardonic 'Here he is' on the poet's first sight of the animal contains the irony that in fact he 'is' not-here he was.
Another short poem, 'Unrhymed Sonnet', defines the poetry of Burns, Wordsworth and Barnes as 'The articulation of things, feelings', and ends with these lines:
For them the animal and ordinary
Are material, are therefore holy.
They understand the coarse consolation
Offered to suffice for those above ground.
The realistic evaluation of 'the animal and ordinary' as 'material' from which poets make poems and men find 'coarse consolation' in life, leads naturally and without incongruity to the transcendental word 'holy'. This is poetry which those 'above ground' should be glad has been made.
This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.