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

ONLY WRITE WELL Peter Levi, Collected Poems 1955-75, Anvil, £5

Peter Levi's collected poems make an exciting book, handsomely printed by Anvil. I would say he is one of the four or five best English poets alive. The book may convince more people of that, since the bulk of its contents have long been out of print and hard to find even in libraries. In shape and technical usage the poems are richly varied; most are in syllabic forms, many are made up of decasyllabic lines. Levi's rhythms are always extraordinary finds, strongly felt, but lighter and more rapid than almost anybody else's except Siegfried Sassoon's. Everyone notices that some words occur insistently in quite different contexts as if they had a private sense, which can baffle but also often works well in my view.
He may seem closer to Continental than to other English poets but that is mainly the influence of the Classics. He speaks clearly and fully for an unusual kind of person, a sort of embodied brilliance.


Out in the miles-long looking fields of grain
one tanned roebuck as dark as a raincloud
running like death, freedom is untrodden,
the ragged trees are a dark battle-line
gunning the tattered air over the road. (Poem 130)


There are important poets of this stature who have been constantly amazing and enlightening in the creation of fine shapes and sure voices, but no other who more than occasionally assumes the right to go into things ...


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