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This review is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

MOST UNEXPECTEDLY Frances Bellerby, The First-Known, Enitharmon Press, £2.10.
Cliff Ashby, The Dogs of Dewsbury, Carcanet Press, £2.00.
Peter Dale, Mortal Fire, Agenda Editions, £2.40.

Frances Bellerby, who died at the beginning of 1976, was one of those poets whose work turns up at the bus stop just in time to see the right public transport for it recede in the distance. The neo-romantic movement of the 1940s would probably have wafted it to appreciation if not acclaim; and it might have taken a seat beside that of the now-neglected Vernon Watkins, another poet of singular purity of voice and language. Both saw the natural world as an expression of the numinous, and that is no longer in fashion: either because belief in the numinous is not currently received, or because most poets-or at any rate most people who read poetry-live in an environment so urbanized or suburbanized that for them nature does not exist except as something to be conserved and put in a tin.

Both Bellerby and Watkins have affinity with Charles Causley, another poet not much heard of among the higher echelons of academic lit. crits. All three have done best when reviving or refashioning the ballad form. Always a risky venture, because of the traps it sets: void rhetoric to be fallen into, facile prolixity to be run away with. Yet if these are evaded the rewards can be glittering, as in the case of Watkins's lucid and powerful 'Ballad of the Mari Lwyd'. And in the case of Frances Bellerby too: 'The Stuttering Water', which opens her book, is a ballad which has the force and plainness, ...


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