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This review is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Conan in Trouble bill griffiths, Collected Poems and Sequences 1981–91 (Reality Street) £19

This second volume of Griffiths’ Collected Poems, which has been painstakingly edited by Alan Halsey, provides a flowchart, log, and memorial to a peculiar poet’s most difficult decade: years in which he awoke from the anarchic dreams of his youth to the vicissitudes of the Thatcher era. If not completely becalmed, these were years in which Griffiths experienced something of a lull in his furious rate of poetic production; he did, however, continue to develop, produced some of his finest work, and, as the eighties drew to a close, became newly prolific, undertaking a thorough refit, overhaul and reordering of his writings on an Amstrad computer file, ‘electronically-published’ as a 3.5" floppy, which has survived to form the basis for this totally brilliant complete edition.  

The book opens with ‘Further Songs and Dances of Death’, which its epigraph informs us is a completion of an unfinished work by Mussorgsky, a disquieting sequence that tells of a child-murdering hermit who has decided to live out his remaining life in a cave, who eventually recovers sufficient spirit, on a diet of kaolin and oranges, to dance once again with his T-handled sword. This strange poem, suffused with images of ashes and potsherds marked with an emblematic T, leads us into ‘Materia Boethiana’, and more archaic excavations: a romance of the Visigoths, an elegy to a friend, G.L. Renfree, who ‘died of narcolepsy’, an extended version of his poem ‘A Guide to the Giants of England’ and a reflection on Hawksmoor, amongst other pieces. ‘The Bournemouth’, which follows, was originally a small Writers Forum book, a powerful ...

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