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This review is taken from PN Review 4, Volume 4 Number 4, July - September 1978.

THREE ROUTES OF ACCESS A State of Justice by Tom Paulin, Faber, £1.95.

The argumentative strength of Tom Paulin's first collection depends on three means of approach. Paulin works on his themes in an unusually deliberate way; so a reviewer should not be accused of murder for the act of dissection implied in my opening sentence. Paulin chases the semantics of his two key words 'state' and 'justice' as they appear, in variant phrases and forms and with varied applications, in modern political societies. Thus 'Under the Eyes' begins:


Its retributions work like clockwork
Along murdering miles of terrace-houses
Where someone is saying, 'I am angry,
I am frightened, I am justified. . . .'


Later in the poem we read: 'Memory is just, too . . .'; still later of 'a Judge/Shot in his hallway before his daughter/By a boy who shut his eyes as his hand tightened.' 'Justified', 'just' and 'Judge' are authentic to the Northern Irish situation described here: Paulin is in this poem as scientifically objective as a field linguist. Elsewhere, language is self-referential: 'A Just State', in the poem of that title, being a system in which lives are liquidated or regimented in the name of 'justice', is the converse of the condition posited by the main title-a desired but fugitive state of reconciliation, harmony, private tenderness. Paulin has a powerful precedent here in Shakespeare, who also tracked such words-honour, nature, justice-by a similar manipulation of language.

Paulin's second method of approach is a ...


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