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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

POETS' PERSONALITIES John Haffenden, Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation (Faber) £7.50

As an interviewer, John Haffenden is polite, academic, a little anxious, and a little over-inclined to prompt his subjects, and if he has a serious weakness it is the typical weakness of the interviewer who lacks wide experience: an insufficiently confident grasp of the right moment to pursue a point, the right moment to let a point go. Thus he repeatedly pesters Thom Gunn with the contention that Fighting Terms and The Sense of Movement showed 'too much cognition, too much premeditation', that they were 'too watertight, too hermetic' and had 'too much intellectual control about them, too much wariness about leaving yourself open', that they were 'bubbling with a kind of frustration'. Gunn concedes the point gracefully and deferentially, with the modesty we have come to associate with the man; but there are signs that, by the fourth time Haffenden offers this observation, the poet is tiring of it a little, and his answers grow remarkably short. Elsewhere (one example may stand for many, I hope), Haffenden asks Thomas Kinsella about his poem 'The Monk', wondering whether it takes delight in death or presents a dream of beauty, and receives an answer which reads so ambiguously on the page that it is barely possible to forgive Haffenden's failure to rephrase the question by way of follow-through.

Haffenden's failures in follow-through may, however, be explained by his wish to pay at least some attention to a wide range of issues in time which was on occasion clearly ...


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