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Monthly Carcanet Books

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

CARPENTERS Neil Powell, At the Edge (Carcenet) £2.00
Neil Powell, Out of Time (Mandeville Press) 50p
Neil Powell, Carpenters of Light: A Critical Study of Contemporary British Poetry (Carcanet) £6.95

Neil Powell's first collection of poems, At the Edge, and his critical book, Carpenters of Light, both carry epigraphs from Donald Davie's poem, 'With the Grain', which in fact supplies the title of the latter. Davie is not quite a presiding deity in Powell's poetry and prose, but he is a presence who is taken very seriously, for the craftsmanship of his verse, and the high intelligence of his criticism. The taking seriously appears sometimes as imitation, sometimes as reasoned rebuttal. Discussing Davie in Carpenters of Light Powell quotes the strange note on 'With the Grain' that Davie included in his Collected Poems, where Davie said that he was not a poet by nature, only inclination. Powell wishes that Davie hadn't published the note and is at pains to save him from his self-denigration, insisting tht he uses the word 'natural' in far too restricted a sense. In a poem called 'All It Takes' Powell writes in a Davie-like idiom about the problem of Englishness, so central to the older poet; he acknowledges but rejects Davie's concern over many years with America and American space:


           We claim not choose
What we already own - it claims us.
Something in the weather or something
in the light - it hardly matters which -
enforces its own pressure. And yet,
I once had the Transatlantic Dream,
Black Mountainous and vast: the old need
for a larger canvas, much more paint, ...


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