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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

GIVING UP EVERYTHING LES ARNOLD, Shaker City (Stride) £7.95

'Dervish of energy' is a phrase that frequently comes to my mind when I think of Les Arnold or read his poetry. It was used of him by a friend with whom he had taught at a university in Canada, after Arnold had died at the age of 49 in 1992. It was certainly true of the man I had known, and it is true of his poetry. But is there, I wonder, a contradiction between this and the fact that his poetry is haunted by the omnipresence of death? Once the immediate grief of loss is past, one temptation in reading the work of a poet who was a friend is to find it not only death-haunted, but shadowed by premonitions of his own mortality.

'Running' (from Joy Riding) is a poignant example:

My heart crows along this morning
road. Running zippy zappy through
the day, blue-frost, ice-sun, hearing
only thud of distant blood, my body
fell from a great height.

I merge with the road's indirection.
I can't die. I can only go on like
this, amplifying the world's pulse
under a clear sky, drawing after me
the trees, the early flowers, sleight
of fox & deer in celebratory
silent marathon.

It is impossible after the poet's death not to detect a sliver of ice at the heart of such a poem. In the case of Les ...


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