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This review is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

THE SHIVER OF THE UNEXPECTED David Holbrook, Selected Poems (Anvil) £5.95
Christopher Hampton, A Cornered Freedom (Peterloo) £3.00
I. P. Taylor, The Hollow Places (Peterloo) £3.00
Alan Brownjohn, A Night in the Gazebo (Secker) £3.00
Penelope Shuttle, The Orchard Upstairs (Oxford) £3.95

One species of contemporary verse might be designated Telling-you-all-about-it. It is written in the first person and in the present tense, and its preoccupations are architectural or domestic: the verse form is usually free, the tone is placid and the ending indeterminate. I used to think of David Holbrook as principal begetter of this kind of self-expressive commentary; but to read this new selection is to realise that such a view does him only partial justice. Although the autobiographical free-verse mode predominates in the later poems, the earlier ones reveal a mastery of verse form and ingenious rhyme that at times recalls Hardy. The later work, more Lawrentian, has, for all its greater slackness, an immediacy that can disconcert. 'I hold her breasts and feel her working/Fast in the scent of garlic, and burnt alcohol,/ Kiss her soft nape, till she pushes me away.' But Holbrook can also be banal (one poem opens, 'I go to Cambridge for the day;') and produce collocations that are anything but Martian: 'I transfer my attention to a row of turnips/And, back in my true love's arms, find peace at last.' At other times, however, he shows a real mastery of the diary-poem, lovingly observed natural detail predominating: 'Tom at Ellimore' is a perfect poem of this kind. I can understand people disliking Holbrook's work very much indeed; but there is something about the best of it that disarms, in the frankness and particularity (too particular at times) with which family life is ...


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