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

PORTABLE ROOTS Ken Smith, The Poet Reclining: Selected Poems 1962-1980 (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95, £4.50 pb.

'The Poet Reclining includes all the poetry which Ken Smith wants to keep in print from books and pamphlets published between 1962 and 1980,' says the bibliography at the end of the book, indicating that this is a collected poems rather than a selection from the work of two decades. I mention this minor point to begin with since there is much about the presentation of this book which could be misleading about its contents. The drawing on the front cover by Paul Stangroom is a scene of rural hills leading on to an old-style industrial plain full of smoking chimneys, giving the impression that a major concern of Smith's poetry is with the loss of the organic etcetera rural community. It is quite possible that the poet himself (or a part of him) agrees with this image of his work since the first poem in the book (one of great personal importance) is about his parents moving from the country to the town: 'Silence is gone from their lives, the city/has taken that poised energy', where the word 'poised' is not only reminiscent of Leavis, one of the major supporters of this influential idea, but seems also to indicate the unfelt or unlived (to use more Leavis favourites) nature of the platitude itself; and the book ends with the poet 'concluding' in the 'cold northern country' of his childhood. This image is reinforced by certain critical remarks by others on the back and inside cover, and since it ...


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