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

George Barker at Seventy David Gascoyne

TOWARDS the end of a poem that George Barker wrote as a 'nosegay' for my sixty-fifth birthday [1981] occurs the line: 'and now, I think, you know that all thought is illusion'. If I properly understand these words, I believe they are true. When Robert Fraser wrote asking me to contribute to this Barker supplement of PN Review, he suggested that I discuss the significance I feel Barker's presence has had for my own work and for my generation; later in his letter he referred to a derogatory reference I once made, in my 'intimate' Journal for 1938, to an essay by Barker that had just appeared in The Criterion and to his then recent collection Calamiterror. I can disclaim as much competence as inclination to assess George Barker's poetry from an academically literary point of view. What I once thought of Calamiterror has no longer even marginal relevance. I was then only twenty-one and predictably brash, reacting, I hope without jealousy, to what at that time struck me as George's tendency towards a type of poetic rhetoric that ran counter to, or provided a substitute for, the kind of thought that - as he rightly wrote in that 'nosegay' -I now realise to be in a sense an illusion.

I can truthfully say that never, since the appearance of Thirty Preliminary Poems in 1933, have I been consciously influenced in my own writing by Barker's poetry, though I have constantly felt that, though what I was ...


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