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This article is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

Shelf Lives: 14: Harold Monro Peter Scupham

You, of the previous Being,
You who once made me, and who now discuss me,
Tell me your edict.

You, long ago,
With doubting hands and eager trembling fingers,
Prepared my room

Before I came,
Each gave a token for remembrance, left it,
And then retired behind the bolted door.

There is the pot of honey
One brought, and there the jar of vinegar
On the same table.

Who poured that water
Shining beside the flask of yellow wine?
Who sighed so softly?

Who brought that living flower to the room?
Who groaned - and I can ever hear the echo?
- You do not answer.

Those stanzas from 'Fate', swaying uneasily between polarities, lucid and colloquial in their impossible questioning, circle round the centre of that business of living which so troubled and obsessed Monro, whose first collection, Poems, was published by Elkin Mathews in 1908; his last, The Earth for Sale, by Chatto and Windus in 1928. The years between were, of course, marked by the extraordinary business of founding and running, with Alida Klementaski, the Poetry Bookshop in Devonshire Street, with its overhead attics for dossing down indigent poets, its hand-coloured Lovat Fraser rhyme sheets, and the famous readings. Despite the baleful growth of the 'Look at me, I'm reading' school, one would give something for an ur-recording of readings by ...

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