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

The Early Barker George MacBeth

SOME poets tend to coalesce, in recollection, to a handful of pregnant lines, a few anecdotes, and a sort of 'aura' that connects the two. Sir Philip Sidney stricken with thirst, offers his glass of water and a handful of sonnets, Wilfred Owen fails to take the cigarette out of his mouth as he writes 'deceased' over the dead men's letters. With the great sacred monsters of the 1940s, however, the few anecdotes have had a habit of obscuring the power, and sometimes even the drift, of the pregnant lines. It was, after all, the apparently slapdash Dylan Thomas, drinking himself to death on however many glasses of whisky, who was also the great exponent of revising.

In the case of George Barker, of course, the bifurcation of endeavour has come to seem extreme. A sort of tantalizing centaur (George to his friends, Barker to an irritated residue) has emerged to play at being the wicked doppelganger, an alter ego with an oeuvre like a carelessly preserved jig-saw where several of the main pieces-like some of the bomber pilots they may have touched on-are still missing.

In my own no doubt star-struck example (and, alas, those who have known the poet are often driven to these rash or coy indiscretions) the personality of the few anecdotes is a jovial, somewhat riotous one. I recall the case of a crate of sherry, one still awaited, though without much hope and with no rancour, thirty years after ...


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