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This article is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

'Components Arranged in Space': The Poetry of John Riley Ian Brinton
Judgement, like an epiphany, comes unexpectedly and, according to 'spring . diversion', one of John Riley's last published poems, 'so does glory / ready or not'. The chanting from a children's game of hide and seek suggests that we are not only the pursuers after truth and beauty but also the pursued. In the same poem from That is today (Pig Press, 1978) Riley presents us with a spiritual conundrum that is central to his poetry:

                                   the absolute is a room
without doors or windows

When Michael Grant edited the Selected Poems of John Riley for Carcanet in 1995 he opened his 'Afterword' with a reference to the poetry's preoccupation with light, focusing immediately on 'The Poem as Light' from What Reason Was, the 1970 Grosseteste volume of early poems written between 1967 and 1969:

The dream of rivers, fig leaves silent on the tree,
          Countryside almost as white as green.
Spirit of river, of tree, tell me, tell me.

According to Grant this poem 'does not merely describe light: the poem's language appears informed by it, seeming to participate in the world that it invokes and delineates'. When Macbeth reasoned with himself concerning the apparent existence of a 'dagger of the mind' in Act II of Shakespeare's drama he dismissed its reality by attributing it to 'the bloody Businesse which informes / Thus to mine Eyes', accounting for a hallucination by referring to the mind's preoccupations. By contrast, John Riley's invocation of an 'other' ...


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