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

POETRY CARBONARA GLYN MAXWELL, The Boys at Twilight (Bloodaxe) £8.95
GILLIAN ALLNUT, Lintel (Bloodaxe) £7.95

The late Auberon Waugh, editor of Literary Review, took a dim view of contemporary poetry, believing that too many poets these days are, to quote Robert Frost, 'playing tennis without the net'. In protest, Waugh set up a 'real poetry' competition in his own magazine to correct the balance. To qualify for entry, poems had to rhyme, scan and make sense. Meanwhile, within the poetry scene, prizes and acclaim continued to be heaped upon free verse (or, as Waugh and Frost would have called it, chopped-up prose) and the Literary Review's competition was derided, insofar as it was noticed at all, as merely an outlet for doggerel.

Though Auberon Waugh is no longer with us, the Poetry War continues: what constitutes a proper poem? New books by Glyn Maxwell and Gillian Allnutt inspire me to ask this question. Maxwell's new collection, The Boys at Twilight, 'lines up all the star poems from his three Bloodaxe collections', according to the blurb. The phrase 'star poems' is well chosen. Maxwell's writing is resplendent. He is an adept formalist who uses rhyme to stunning effect, prioritising sound, rhythm and musicality in his work, but what about Waugh's making sense rule? Take the poem 'Mild Citizen':

Sunday is wringing its discoloured hands.
The elms are rinsed with light and greenness, birds
shit and circle over those charlatans
who haggle in the fields. I do my work,
        scotching the short words
I really want, ...


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