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This article is taken from PN Review 1, Volume 4 Number 1, October - December 1977.

Magic & String: The Poetry of Peter Scupham Neil Powell

SOME POETS know what they're doing and can say so. Donald Davie, for instance, seems often to provide oblique footnotes to his poems in his critical writing and has additionally published a long, 'vulnerable' note to 'With the Grain' in his Collected Poems. Explaining oneself in prose is a risky affair. When J. V. Cunningham tried it, in The Quest of the, Opal, his mentor and friend Yvor Winters commented, 1 wish he had never written it'; and even as prickly a talent as Geoffrey Grigson felt obliged to concede that 'Writing notes to introduce new poems is not in fashion' when he provided one for Discoveries of Bones and Stones. The poem, it's implied, should stand without apologia or marginalia from its author.

Peter Scupham's first pamphlet collection, The Small Containers (1972), opened with two 'Introductions': one in prose, like those in most of the other Phoenix pamphlets, the other a poem entitled 'Man on the Edge'. Both are, to return to Davie's word, 'vulnerable': the more so in retrospect for they assume the look of a poet's manifesto as he sets out on his literary career. Yet even that 'sets out' needs qualifying: Scupham, born in 1933, was thirty-nine when The Small Containers appeared and no beginner, though he says he had written scarcely a poem before the age of thirty. When Yeats published In the Seven Woods, he was thirty-nine and had a long way to go.

In that prose 'Introduction', Scupham, ...


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