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This review is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

INIMITABLE MASTER W. S. Graham, Collected Poems (Faber) £8.50; £2.50-paper

W. S. Graham is a poet who rather resents the poem: he resents it its liberty, the way that, when it is complete, it excludes its maker and floats free of time, into some other element. He envies the poem, too, and in his more recent work his whole endeavour seems to be to remain, however tenuously, by accent or by idiosyncracy, within the poem, to hover with it, to detain it and yet to share its curious liberty.

He is also ambiguous in his relationship with the reader: he will not quite surrender the poem to him. He points at the reader, cajoles him, as if to say, 'This far, no further: the poem may not be mine, but it is not yours either.' Such a poetry, which is not quite anchored and yet not quite floating free, which does not exploit 'open forms' and yet does not entirely commit itself to 'closed forms', is the easiest to write, the hardest to write well. In the same ambiguous terrain as Graham's are the poems of Stevie Smith, the more extreme and useful poems of Marianne Moore, even the poems of writers such as C. H. Sisson and-a very different case-George Barker at his best. It is a poetry much loved by those who love it, as one might say, and resented by those who like to possess the poem or be possessed by it. It is unteachable poetry. Above all, by its careful disorientation of the ...


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