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This review is taken from PN Review 203, Volume 38 Number 3, January - February 2012.

ESTABLISHING COMMON GROUND PETER SCUPHAM, Borrowed Landscapes (Carcanet) £9.95

Over the last forty years Peter Scupham has quietly produced a body of poetry remarkable for the way it condenses emotion and meaning out of ordinary observation and experience.Borrowed Landscapes, his first new collection in more than a decade, opens with a debt to Auden. Echoing the playful iambs and trochees of 'Domesday Song' (1941), 'The Old Type Tray' reiterates a 'triune orchid, Caesar, swan', the apocalyptic implications of Auden's poem refocusing on a typesetter's divided box of moveable type. 'Collected Works, Principia, / primal scream and earliest ur' - all such incantatory words 'spill from this crazy leaden casket'. Scupham explores the ways in which words stave off the obliterating forgetfulness of death and concludes with an eschatological pun that would have appealed to his great formal master: 'typographer and text, the clock defied, / put to their final proof and justified'. The poem's embedded theological allusions signal Scupham's belief in the power of words to grant a sort of eternal life, while its tribute to Auden confesses that poetic faith inheres and grows within a common tradition.

The structures Scupham deploys in Borrowed Landscapes are intended to establish common ground; indeed, the book's title indicates that he is working within demesnes properly belonging to others. It is not only a poetic space that Scupham is appropriating, formalist that he is; his acquired terrain is also empirical - the geographical and historical landscape of Britain. Continuing the patterns of memorialising he established in such volumes as ...


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