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This article is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

The One that Got Away Robert Fraser

IT is now a quarter of a century since Faber & Faber issued the Collected Poems of George Barker in 1957. It is out of print as are all of the fifteen books which appeared before it and all but five of the twelve books which have been published since. These facts, symptomatic of gross neglect, form the background to any current assessment. To ask oneself why things have been allowed to come to this pass is to raise a number of related issues, of public taste, of critical consensus, of the complicity of the literary canon. Ultimately it is to reconsider the history of English verse in this century.

More misconceptions exist about Barker than about any other living English poet. He was once held, by Francis Scarfe, to be Dylan Thomas's contemporary. This, however, is to take chronological time too seriously, and Barker himself too lightly. 'Poet of the 1930s', 'Poet of the 1940s', 'New Romantic', 'member of the Apocalypse', none of these labels fit. Barker is not Thomas's contemporary, nor, pace C. H. Sisson, is he David Gascoyne's, but an intimate of Edmund Spenser, whom he once met at Minterne Magna in Dorset, of Blake whom he saw at Sonning, and of Wordsworth to whom he spoke on the promenade at Bournemouth. Barker has always had a problematic relation to linear time, which in his work has always asserted its claims, but never quite had him by the throat. Much of his writing can ...


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