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

ATMOSPHERE John Whitworth, Unhistorical Fragments (Secker) £3.90

Bums and chums, tits and twits, queers and beers: these poems have plenty of atmosphere. There is the occasional bluff generalizing wisdom: 'Life's an endless dirty joke', though distanced to the extent that this could be either a belief, or a criticism of other people's beliefs; and a coy tone, in which self-effacement seems to be the object: 'Jenny Jefferey! I loved you with a lively passion when/With turned up raincoat collars and our Woodie packs of ten/Our lot drank Skol Lager in Milne's Bar and hoped we looked like men.' Some of this effort to recall growing up in or out of suburbia is enjoyable, although some of the conclusions seem to be melodramatic: 'Down the canal/ Come Sundays, by the bridge you'd spot/The tapeworms of french letters, bobbing, bobbing, which was what/The fuss all meant.' Typical, too, is the habit of playing off such supposedly 'low' detail against nostalgically 'high' metrical patterns. There is a different substance in some poems, in 'Lovely Morning' and 'Report of the Progress of the Export Drive', an enjoyment in describing incidents observed, a more successful directness than the more usual evoking of what generally passes as everyday life, i.e. lecherous fantasy, nostalgia, etc. In fact, Whitworth declares himself for 'love/Cricket and poems', a love at that where 'love-making was touch/Of hands'. So he seems to have shocked himself, if no one else, with the 'endless dirty joke'.

-Michael Vince

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