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This article is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.

Notes on Sylvia Townsend Warner's Poetry Martin Seymour-Smith

It is right that there should be a Collected Poems of Sylvia Town-send Warner. It is not that all her poems are successful: there is a high proportion of failures. But they are nearly always interesting, and this applies even to the most derivative and clumsy. Many who have read her novels are unaware that she wrote poetry. Indeed, odd in every way that she too deliberately was, she leaves the impression that she did not very much care whether she wrote poetry or not. I think she felt like that at least when she was not writing it. This, in an age when 'greatness' and 'achievement' (properly written up by 'critics') are the aim of even poetasters, is a positive gain. She is in a way a more rewarding writer than Ruth Pitter, than Kathleen Raine, than Elizabeth Bishop-than even Marianne Moore.

It might seem that I am trying to be annoying-and to over-value Warner. But it is simply that I am not writing in the familiar pseudo-critical ambience. Living literature cannot be treated as a collection of specimens categorised in hierarchies: the earnest taxonomist is playing at literature, and is called, in our century, a literary professional, or a critic, or a teacher. You could not teach Pitter, but Bishop and Moore are taught, and Raine is one about whom you are obliged to have an opinion. So that it is nice to have Warner: one sees that she did, as it happens, develop. To ...


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