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

MR WRIGHT, MR SWIGG AND THE EVERYDAY The Penguin Book of Everyday Verse edited by David Wright, Allen Lane, £6.95.

Over the last three or four years there has been considerable debate over the relation between poetry and ordinariness. Larkin's Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse, Donald Davie's Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, Colin Falck's essay 'Poetry and Ordinariness' in the first issue of the New Review, and, most recently, Richard Swigg's brilliant but contentious 'Descending to the Commonplace' (PNR 2): all these directly or by implication raise the question of how 'everyday' poetry can be and still remain poetry of worth. Professor Davie talks of 'selling poetry short', Mr Swigg describes a 'tradition of inadequacy', I have myself tried to defend a 'minimalist' tendency in contemporary poetry. We are not in agreement, but we are addressing, ourselves to the same phenomenon: to a tradition we can see running from Hardy through Auden and Orwell to Larkin and his contemporaries. It is a tradition which seems not to rest on most of the assumptions of Romanticism, symbolism and modernism since it tolerates, even celebrates the 'everyday', regarding efforts to transcend it with suspicion. The question is: what importance can we ascribe to this tradition?

The publication some months ago of The Penguin Book of Everyday Verse, edited by David Wright, was a potentially valuable addition to this debate-'valuable' because in providing a selection of what he calls 'Social and Documentary Poetry, 1250-1916' Mr Wright could well have been giving evidence of a tradition of ordinariness into which contemporary ordinariness can be placed and through which it ...


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