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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

THREE SHIPS Charles Causley, Collected Poems 1951-1975 (Macmillan) £4.95 pb.

Charles Causley is not, I suppose, a Fashionable poet; but that is not to say that his work is 'old-fashioned'. Despite the formal analogies that can be drawn between his work and that of Betjeman, he is his own man. The best of his poems show a mastery of formal gifts, but his poetry is, above all, humane: Causley gathers in the strange, sad, funny days and dreams of 'ordinary people' - amongst others, a Chief Petty Officer, a dreadful Auntie, Ma Treloar, and Silent Jack.

The Collected Poems 1951-1975 draws on work from seven previous collections. The earliest two, Farewell, Aggie Weston and Survivor's Leave are almost exclusively concerned with Causley's wartime experiences as a seaman. 'The war,' Causley has written, 'had a catalytic effect on me as a writer. Until then, I'd lived the whole of my life in the small Cornish town where I was born. It was Hitler who pushed a subject under my nose; and the fact that poetry could be put together in one's head - when working at other jobs, lying half-asleep in a hammock, sitting in a bar-and written down, complete, on a bit of paper the way a play or novel or short-story couldn't, gave me a form . . .' (from The Poetry of War 1939-45, ed. Hamilton). This helps explain not only the forms (very often the ballad form) of the verse, but also the sense of immediacy in the rhythms themselves. In this case, 'traditional' ...


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