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

ATTEMPTED SENTENCES ALAN HALSEY, Wittgenstein's Devil: Selected Writing 1978-98 (Stride) £9.95

Wittgenstein's Devil is essential reading for anyone interested in what has been happening in British poetry in the last thirty years. It brings together a unique body of poetry and prose which has to date been scattered throughout the farther reaches of the British small press scene. In an interview given some years ago to David Hart for Acumen magazine, Halsey commented that 'It's as if some poets don't write, they set language in action'. Halsey has clearly thought very deeply about what it is that sets 'language in action' and makes one combination of words more meaningful than another. This means that when he turns to one of poetry's traditional subjects in 'An Essay On Translation' subtitled 'i.m. Peter Hoy' the effect is powerful indeed. The poem begins with found solecisms - 'How are the things by Hay-on-Wye / and what will you do when you are Death?' - and ends:

There is a novice in the land
of the Dead who was a friend of mine.
[...]
How are the things by the river?
Standing somewhat aside from the gathering there
is a novice I still call a friend of mine.
There is no end to likeness and appearance.

After the poem's opening solecisms, the final line is certainly what 'Lizard Abstract' calls 'a textual remark' because Halsey's conception of language means that, in the words of 'Self-Portrait In A '90s Bestiary', 'A passable order ...


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