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

The 'Essays' Jonathan Barker

SOMETIME during 1970 a twenty-one year old man picked up a book with a green cover like stained glass which had just arrived in the public library where he then worked.

I had decided to read my innocent way through all the English poets some two years earlier and had liked the poems of my namesake in the Collected Poems and The View from a Blind I well enough to tackle his prose. What I found was not the usual collection of reprinted odds and ends, but one of those comparatively rare books whose whole (as Barker might put it) equals more than the sum of the individual parts. Like Coleridge's Biographia Literaria the book, in the process of presenting a particular artist's thoughts on poetry and the poetic experience, also gives us an illuminating insight into the ways of his imagination. This experience is not defined with greater finality for the reader in one place more than any other, but to quote Coleridge, 'is a continuous under-current of feeling; it is everywhere present, but seldom anywhere as a separate excitement', suffusing every page with what was to me then a revelation. Chance had already put in my way Oscar Wilde's The Decay of Lying and The Critic as Artist, so literary criticism which was itself an imaginative creation, as opposed to detached comment, was not totally new to me. What was new was the fact that Barker was a contemporary of mine, a living poet, and ...


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