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This review is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

AND THE TUGS GIVE A GENTLE ‘AHOOGA’ BILL GRIFFITHS, Collected Earlier Poems (1966–80), edited by Alan Halsey and Ken Edwards (Reality Street) £18

Bill Griffiths could present a surly figure to people who didn’t know him, and sometimes to people who did. ‘A surly man would rather disoblige you than oblige himself’, wrote Hazlitt, a kind of apology for surliness. There is something of a proud independence in the preemptive strike of being disobliging, a justifiable wariness about any debts or presumptions that being too helpful might incur: oblige others once and they soon expect more of the same, and further intolerable impositions will follow as night chases day. To be surly is to defy customs of politeness, of deference, and thereby to place others – usually the advantaged – at a disadvantage. But there is also something defensive, already hurt, in the surliest man, something, anyway, to justify the relentless grudge that seems to lie behind such passive aggression, such insulting disbelief in the reasonable claims – and good will – of others. I suppose the question is whether surliness is justified, and what it is about, whether it is simply the irritation of a put-upon shop assistant, for example, or the resentment of a younger brother, or – as in Bill Griffiths’ case – the programmatic attitude of an intractably bloody-minded person.

But what makes a rebel? What turns the sensitive, imaginative Brahms-loving son of a piano teacher into a Hell’s Angel? And not one of the original noble band of brothers who made such an effective job of policing Altamont, but a home-grown home counties bike gang, ...


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