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This review is taken from PN Review 217, Volume 40 Number 5, May - June 2014.

Fun Run in Black Tie simon jarvis, (Enitharmon) £9.99

Seven thousand lines of metrical ottava rima would be worth talking about even were they not the work of Simon Jarvis, a poet largely read by those innovators who think received form is a mind-control technique invented by Michael Gove. Night Office is the latest of several efforts by Jarvis, also an academic specialising in matters of versification, to dispel illusions about the fettering conservatism of traditional structuring techniques, and it is tremendously welcome on principle.

Yet in practice Jarvis seems oddly inconvenienced by the form, which hobbles his poem’s argument instead of constructively diverting it. While there is the occasional Hudibrastic rhyme or Procrustean enjambment, the rhymes are by and large safe and perfunctory, affecting and effecting sentence structure but failing to generate ideas or tones that were not already at work: when a rhyme is required for ‘up’, for instance, cups come into play, but the cups (like most of the objects in the primarily abstract poem) swiftly become figurative and then forgotten. As for the metre, there is a frustrating amount of wrenching involved, especially given the poet’s understanding that iambic pentameter need not be an unyielding master. The frequent use of the word ‘just’ as metrical filler irritates: there are moments of self-awareness (‘just food and just its just distribution’; ‘not just, just instrumental’), but most occurrences of the word are for syllabic purposes (‘just as the next initiative just lops’; ‘wishing just to be / inexorably made’; and on, and on). The effect of these efforts to keep the form ...


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