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

IDEAS DEATH NEVER THOUGHT OF Norman MacCaig, A World of Difference (Hogarth Press) £3.95 pb

Norman MacCaig has arrived at a point in his career similar to that reached by, say, John Hewitt, in that he seems to ooze poetry from every pore; he can make a poem from every occasion, every observation, and every chance meeting. The pleasing thing is that he does this in a matter-of-fact way, without the strut that often accompanies a younger poet's display of his skill in versifying the everyday. MacCaig continues to involve himself in a quest for exactly the right phrase or image to embody a state of mind or a particular truth. A stanza like 'Under a ferocious snowfall/of gulls and fulmars/a corner of the bay is simmering/with herring fry' ('Summer Idyll') is more a concentrated form of idiomatic speech, an amplification of picturesque pub-talk, than an example of the current 'Stanza as Searchlight' school, where the lines are specifically designed to dazzle as well as lead the way. This isn't to say that the language can't occasionally become a little too brightly coloured, as in the last stanza of the same poem: 'And in the gentle West/a ladylike sunset/swoons/on the chaise-longue/of the Hebrides', which could almost be a parody of MacCaig, but which in its endearing daftness is also surprisingly apt.

Despite this accuracy and rightness of observation, however, none of the poems merely observes. The book contains a series of battles between Death 'the playboy king,/capering and giggling yet again/at his one bad joke'(`Old Man'), and Art, or rather, Art's power ...


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