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This review is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

From the Smokery peter carpenter, Just Like That (Smith/Doorstop) £9.95

Peter Carpenter was born in Ewell, Surrey, in 1957. He belongs to the generation that looked with adoration at the Beatles and George Best, a generation for which the whiff of marijuana was breathed in with the atmosphere. At the same time, his England is one of ribbon developments, supermarkets and London overspill – not greatly different, despite the digital age, from Philip Larkin’s, though lived predominantly in the south-east. Drawn often towards the Thames estuary, his writing is also in touch with Dickens’s England, Dickens in general and Great Expectations in particular being frequent points of reference. It is never picture-book country. As Ruskin said of Turner, there is always litter in the foreground, and the litter here is often the verbal kind. There is something demotic about the jokey, somewhat slangy diction and the references to sport and popular culture, but Carpenter’s work is a far cry from, say, the Merseyside poets. There are many subtle literary allusions, and his sense of verbal complexity is comparable to Empson’s or to Hill’s. He also has a striking gift for metaphor; the first poem in the book talks, for instance, of ‘the fine rain of memory’ – a marvellous phrase.

One inevitably introduces Carpenter in these terms. The first of his five previous volumes is called Choosing an England (1997), and there is irony in that title, since the England he writes about is so strikingly one he could never in fact have chosen – that of his childhood circumstances – and ...

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