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

John Riley Douglas Oliver

A CRITIC fond of John Riley's poetry would be wrong, now that the Collected Works have appeared, to complain about any neglect suffered during the writer's lifetime. After he was murdered in. Leeds in 1978, the determined integrity of his poetic and editing career seemed to me, attending his Russian Orthodox funeral, of impressive value amid the ignominious circumstances of the stupid crime. Far from centres of national reputation, he had always sought his vision in common, provincial life and I don't want to betray that paradoxically fierce modesty here.

Where any whiff of melodrama threatens to aggrandise our claims for a poet we must douhly ensure that we keep our scale exact. This fat collection of John Riley's poems and prose, produced with admirable care by the small press that he co-founded, is so inclusive editorially that it builds towards its central richness but slowly. The emblem of that richness will eventually appear most completely in the long poem, 'Czargrad', as an imagined, pristine Eastern Orthodox city, shining a little with Byzantine gold, ambiguously holding out promise of true government, of true citizenship, and held in mind-sight by tremulous energies of artistic creativity. Remembering Yeats, we may think we've been in that city before and found it too immobile, but if we work patiently through even the weaker work in this collection-and there is quite a bit of it-we shall experience a very different artistic civility than that which set Yeats's golden bird to sing. This, ...


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