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This review is taken from PN Review 139, Volume 27 Number 5, May - June 2001.

OCCASIONAL UNITY EDNA LONGLEY, Poetry and Posterity (Bloodaxe) £25.00 hb, £10.95 pb
The Bloodaxe Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry, edited by Edna Longley (Bloodaxe) £10.95, pb

In her Preface to The Bloodaxe Book of 20th Century Poetry, Edna Longley concurs with Yeats's stress - in the introduction to his 1936 Oxford Book of Modern Verse - on the importance of the modern lyric poem, and proffers her anthology as a gathering of such Yeatsian 'acorns'. Admitting the 'huge impact' of The Waste Land on subsequent poetry, she nevertheless believes that its 'formal influence' may be overrated by its admirers, and argues instead for the ongoing 'vitality of traditional forms.' As a corollary to this stance, she is suspicious of any contemporary poetry that relies on disjunctive formal procedures stemming from the examples of Eliot or Pound and Williams: such practices, she tendentiously opines, are often 'anti-poetic and anti-creative'.

Her emphasis on the lyric mode does not preclude representation in her anthology of a number of poets (principally Scottish) who clearly took their bearings from first and second generation modernist poetry - a portion of Bunting's Briggflatts and several of Ian Hamilton Finlay's One Word Poems are to be found here. Indeed, overrated or not, disiecta membra of The Waste Land are alsoincluded. But the dominant figures are those for whom the lyric form could take the pressure of the age, and hence speak from and to its historical moment. Thus Hardy and Edward Thomas rightly loom large in the anthology's opening pages, while Simon Armitage and Don Patterson bring it to a bathetic close. Longley's narrow focus provides a clearly delimited picture of ...


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