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This review is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

THE INWARD EAR Thomas Blackburn, Bread for the Winter Birds: Last Poems (Hutchinson) £6.95

A few weeks before his death I had a letter from Tom Blackburn:


. . . forgiveness is the only way out of shame. I don't really know but do know that as I have experienced the beforeness of life so will its afterness be just as Blake said a matter of going from one room to another. Don't know it, deeply feel it.


These words seem to me to sum up the last flowering of Blackburn's poetry: those late, hard won and perdurable verses that are to be found in Post Mortem (1977) and in this new, post-humous collection, Bread for the Winter Birds-some of which, as we learn from Peggy Blackburn's foreword, were written a few days before he died. The best of them are speculations about death, preparing for death, its rewards, process, and meaning. They were written out of intense interest and curiosity, yet with the disinterested detachment of a craftsman, a maker (I find I cannot use that debased word 'poet' any longer). There is little in common with the humourless self-important I-wants-to-make-your-flesh-creep stance of the Sylvia Plaths and Anne Sextons:


My poems suggest, I hope, that I do care,
Because one tries to speak to the inward ear
And exorcise with one another's fear.

Mind you that's only one reason for my writing;
I'm not a very altruistic sort of man
And really want the ...


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