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

POEMS OF MEMORY Louis Simpson, Caviare at the Funeral (Oxford) £4.50
Frederick Morgan, Poems of Two Worlds (University of Illinois Press) £3.00
Carl Bode, Practical Magic (Swallow/Ohio University Press) n.p.
Gregory Orr, The Red House (Harper and Row) n.p.

In Louis Simpson's career Russia has been the country of memory, contrasting with America, the country without. So, Russians have a special significance for him, as carriers both of memory and of the details of experience. In North of Jamaica (published in this country as Air and Armed Men) he provided a clue to this combination:


Like Grigoryev's, my head is full of seemingly significant scenes, gestures, faces, words spoken, that have no significance because they are not connected and serve no purpose. . . . Moreover, it isn't just my own experiences that are obsessive, that come to me night and day as though this time surely they have something to declare, and then like the others don't 'turn out', drifting into chaos, but also the experiences of other people. My mother tells me a story about something she saw as a child, and this torments me as though it happened to myself. (pp. 273-4)


These themes reappear in this latest collection. In the opening poem, 'Working Late', a memory of his father includes the observation: 'All the arguing in the world/will not stay -the moon./She has come all the way from Russia . . .'. And later he entitles a poem 'Why do you write about Russia?' in which Grigoryev reappears as a source of wisdom. Simpson's Russia is a place in the mind, often not even charted by his own memory, but adapted from the perceptions of others ...


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