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This review is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

TWO CHEERS FOR DONALD DAVIE Trying to Explain by Donald Davie, Carcanet, £6.95

In latter years Donald Davie's criticism has become louder and pricklier. Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (1973), penetrating in elucidation of crucial polarities within our poetry, pushed some particular arguments to perverseness or confusion; was at least the perpetually stimulating work of a critic who cared as a practitioner about poetry. Other more recent prose apart, Davie's diverse excursions into controversy in journals have been bristling stuff, showing him often incisive, sometimes pompous or huffily volatile. Now Trying to Explain collects 'some periodical pieces, mostly rather recent', Poetry-criticism mainly, with a centrepiece sequence on Ezra Pound; autobiographical reminiscence; polemic; interviews with Davie himself. The title is apt to the book's animating spirit and tone, an exasperated urgency before some Coming Darkness to make us see. . . .

Often one does; but not always. Davie does not persuade me that Ed Dorn's acknowledged poetic slovenliness by a shake of the argumentative kaleidoscope falls into patterned vitality. Nor, in 'A Fascist Poem', that Yeats's 'Blood and the Moon' is fairly so convicted. We all know Yeats the man had what a student at my University brightly discovered in Hitler as 'fascist leanings'; but the complex particular poem is tendentiously simplified by Davie because he is riding a favourite hobby-horse about violence, society and individual responsibility. Or rather, one envisions a troika, whirling along behind three approximately collaborative horses of obsession, literary, political and civic, in more or less the right direction, towards the forts of folly. But where ...


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