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This review is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

TENSED John Gurney, Wheal Zion (Harry Chambers/Peterloo) £1.95

Wheal Zion has a texture of description which in the end appears to be disembodied perception, leaving the poet's reactions some way behind: 'And then I tensed'; 'And you flinch'; 'And we tensed', etc., form the repetitive intrusion of a rather nervous consciousness into the world observed. Once, unfortunately on a bridge, it becomes 'Then I jumped'. Some of the poems concern exploration, in mind or body, of abandoned mine workings: 'many times/I slipped in through the adit in the hill'; and in the more successful poems-'The Engine House' for example-the visit and its emergence as an experience are less separate than the many poems full of 'tensing' and 'stopping'. In a note we are told that the collection employs the 'Classical iambic pentameter', whatever that is: here it embodies very little of rhythmic flexibility, largely because of a monotonous falling line with predictable syntax. Even in the rhymed 'Lines on Revisiting Keats' Hampstead', a more varied poem, the impression is of a clarity overwhelmed by repetition or modifiers. The description, in fact, rarely knows when to stop; in one poem the line 'Scarcely glancing at the birds' is followed by six and a half lines of description of . . . the birds. The interest we might feel at the beginning of the book soon flags under such neglect.

-Michael Vince

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