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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

A Dying Fall: A Lying Word Dennis Keene

'It is a false wall, a poet: it is a lying word. It is a wall that closes and does not.'
Laura Riding

The quotation is from a prose poem, 'Poet: A Lying Word' (it can be found in the Faber paperback). It is not a piece of writing I like, nor do I feel I understand it. Like most prose poetry or poetic prose it seems to exaggerate certain technical aspects of verse rather than aim at what are usually thought of as prose virtues; and also invites a verbal playfulness in the reader's mind which prose normally would not. Perhaps prose poetry is obliged to parody the musical elements of verse to indicate that it is conscious of these things yet not fully committed to them. However that may be, the sequence, 'lying word, lying wall, dying wall, dying word, dying fall,' was born out of that quotation, and so produced my pretentious title; all this done as a reminder that prose is not essentially crafty, but poetry is.

It is this crafty aspect of poetry which led Laura Riding to reject the lying words of the poet, for 'what compatibility can there be between the creed offering hope of a way of speaking beyond the ordinary, touching perfection, a complex perfection associated with nothing less complex than truth, and the craft tying the hope to verbal rituals that court sensuosity as if it were the judge of truth?' (Selected Poems, Faber, ...


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