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This review is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.

PROFESSORIAL F. T. Prince, Collected Poems (Anvil Press/Menard Press) £5.95

There are special risks in being a professorial poet: one is the obvious danger of becoming simply too learned for the ordinary reader, ceasing to know instinctively what is and what isn't commonly accessible background knowledge off-campus. The academic poet who has travelled widely is doubly vulnerable: the cultural inheritance which underpins his professional life may not be available to most English readers. That is why Empson, brilliant though he is, is never likely to be a popular poet; and why F. T. Prince (whose poems draw upon his wartime experiences, his travels, and his interests in various cultures) is probably a more obscure poet than he knows.

If his Collected Poems is a slightly disappointing book, it is at least an honourable kind of disappointment. Part of the trouble is that readers will come to it with the wrong expectations: for Prince is, as far as the wider poetry audience is concerned, a one-poem poet, the author of 'Soldiers Bathing"; and this is unfortunate, since "Soldiers Bathing", frequently anthologized though it may be, is a very odd poem. It is a poem which depends upon an extraordinary progression of ideas-from the actual soldiers to Michelangelo to the Crucifixion-while at the same time making the train of thought seem, as it is, understandable and reasonable. The lines, for all their chiming full rhymes, are uneven, tentative and perplexed: the thought seems to struggle with the poem, with the adequacy of words themselves. The effect is remarkable but ...


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