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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

'NO MIND, NO BEGINNING' Christopher Middleton, Carminalenia (Carcanet) £3.95
Michael Horovitz, Growing Up: Selected Poems and Pictures 1951-1979 (Allison & Busby) £4.95hb, £2.50pb

Carminalenia is Christopher Middleton's first book of poems to appear since The Lonely Suppers of W. V. Balloon (1975). This latest volume is not so richly varied in tone or technique as its predecessor, but it is an even more impressive work of art. In Carminalenia Middleton has discarded most of the anarchic frivolity which marred his previous collections, including the last. His attractively dotty though often raucous sense of fun has largely vanished along with the neo-dada dishwater, and so too has much of the elegant experimental and formalist lyricism which helped to redeem occasional tendencies towards lucky-dip methods of composition. The new book contains fewer poems about people in 'newsworthy' social and political contexts of our time, contexts which formerly gave his readers glimpses of a strong natural compassion behind his generally brilliant yet seemingly detached word-play. Several of the poems in Carminalenia are difficult to understand. Modern American poetics have been influential here with the effect that poems are sometimes too fast and irregular in flight to communicate easily or fully. This is despite two pages of author's notes which are intended also to help the reader to comprehend the book's complex structure.

Nevertheless, this book gives us, more consistently than ever before and in the poet's individual tones of voice, what have always been the serious preoccupations of Middleton's poetry. The mystery of the poet's task as he makes structures over, but maybe not across, the perhaps meaningless void, is explored in 'The ...


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