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

TRIVIA AND OCKHAM'S BEARD John Birtwhistle. Tidal Models (Anvil Press Poetry) £2.75
Elizabeth Bartlett. A Lifetime of Dying (Harry Chambers/Peterloo Poets) £1.95
W. G. Shepherd. Evidences (Anvil Press Poetry) £2.95
Keith Bosley. Stations (Anvil Press Poetry) £3.25
William Radice. Strivings (Anvil Press Poetry) £3.25
Gavin Bantock. Dragons (Anvil Press Poetry) £3.25

John Birtwhistle gazes at the sea's magnificence and concludes 'I have lived too long/in this trivial foam'. The claims of 'trivial foam', the minute particulars of life, and the opposing claims of wider, vaguer (perhaps destructive) meanings form a tension apparent throughout the book. At one point he writes of himself as one of those who 'have nested in Ockham's beard', presumably tangled in the universals that the great nominalist's razor would shave away, but on the evidence of his poems Birtwhistle is himself a nominalist. The wider meanings that haunt him are but vaguely adumbrated (history and the ghost of Marx) whereas the particulars of life command his affectionate allegiance, and compel ours too. The finest poems are probably those of the Irish rural sequence Haysaving, where things and people are allowed to be themselves, not dragooned into a squad of ideological evidence. Much of his work is concerned with erosion of one kind or another (history, the sea) and the author seems at times uncertain whether he is on the side of the destroyed or the destroyer. The poems themselves, when they can wriggle free of the tangle in Ockham's beard, are less divided - they celebrate the vulnerable and immediate.

The vulnerable and the immediate are, with far fewer hesitations than in John Birtwhistle's case, also the subject of Elizabeth Bartlett's poems. The difference (immense!) is that the life Birtwhistle celebrates is largely that of other people- Miss Bartlett records her own. But the ...


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