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This review is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

Elegance and Power alasdair paterson, elsewhere or thereabouts (Shearsman Books) £8.95

In 2010 Alasdair Paterson broke a twenty-year publishing silence with On the Governing of Empires, a collection of poems equal in number to the missing books of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos. Its wit and erudition made it one of the most entertaining collections of that year and Paterson has continued in the same manner, bringing together five cycles of poems beginning with Homerics and ending with In Arcadia, originally a pamphlet from Oystercatcher Press. All the twelve poems in Homerics are titled ‘Age of…’, and they play on Homer’s nebulous identity and Plato’s mythologising of the decline of mankind from the Age of Gold to the present time. Paterson’s characteristic form is the verse paragraph whose line is usually a complete phrase, a form possibly taken from Brecht and certainly reminiscent of a century of modernist European poetry. He uses it with a great deal of flexibility. There are also memorable prose poems, with ‘Age of Bards II’ having the form of a memorandum giving five reasons for ‘the tradition of wandering blind bards to be considered a provocation’ and recommending five courses of action, beginning with ‘a conference on oral poetry’ and ending with two final sinister recommendations:

4) Post-conference social programme including escorted tour of typical regional forest.
5) Disappearance of wandering blind bards.

Readers familiar with Eastern European academic conferences will be alert to the use of ‘typical’ instead of ‘local’.

Not all Paterson’s ironies are as savage as this. Often there is Voltaire’s amusement ...

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