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

A Late Conversion Michael Schmidt

WHEN I heard George Barker's deliberate and jagged reading of `Elegy' (PNR 27) at Cambridge in 1981, I went back to his work with new interest. The work is so diverse and has come so far- as is the case with W. S. Graham-that it is possible for the reader progressing through it chronologically to find himself changing with the changes in the writer. My hostility to much of Barker's early poetry remains intact. Calamiterror still strikes me as a garbled piece of rhetoric. In fact, I don't find myself entirely at home with Barker until I come to his work from the 1960s. Then I feel-as I do with Graham's work of the 1950s-that something happens, a development in which the distinctive rhythms of the poet emerge from the shadows of a laboured diction that has exercised its enchantment too long. The change in Barker's work may have come earlier, perhaps intermittently in Eros in Dogma and more decisively in The True Confession.

I value Barker chiefly for what he has published in the last ten years, and especially for Villa Stellar and Anno Domini both of which strike me as major work. It is astonishing how different they are. The first is in Barker's characteristic (if anything can be said to be characteristic about so diverse a writer) elegiac mode. There are moments of vivid evocation which are as good as the best passages in Marlowe's Ovid, moments when the careful movement of the memory ...


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