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This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

NOT SAYING MUCH JOHN FULLER, Pebble & I (Chatto and Windus) £10.00
LACHLAN MACKINNON, Small Hours (Faber and Faber) £9.99
DON PATERSON, Rain (Faber and Faber) £12.99

These three volumes of poetry, by three accomplished practitioners of the arts of versification, each make explicit that they do not offer to treat of very much and, by and large, they live up or down to that promise. ‘Is that philosophy?’ John Fuller sceptically asks: Lachlan MacKinnon, more rawly and bluntly: ‘is that poetry?’ William Blake once invited us to ‘see a world in a grain of sand’ but these poets, different in many ways, surprisingly share a willingness to be often content in observing grains of sand, shells, pebbles, and other small phenomena to be found at the rainy margins of land and sea. Such modesty, in eschewing any greedy hunt for meaning, requires courage and brings rewards, not least the avoiding of our big contemporary clichés. Don Paterson begins his collection with the story of the grafting of a lemon tree and an orange tree, and the subsequent undoing of that graft – a fable- or parable-like poem, with canonical precedents and thus very tempting of interpretation – only for Paterson to end his poem:

They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.
                                                                  (‘Two Trees’)

So the eager exegetes of the contemporary critical world are dismissed firmly at the front door of Paterson’s collection. The promise of not saying much is, however, a demanding one and one worth keeping. It certainly takes very rare and exceptional gifts ...


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