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This review is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Embracing the Wind rory waterman, Belonging and Estrangement in the Poetry of Philip Larkin, R.S. Thomas and Charles Causley (Ashgate) £54

Larkin’s ‘essential criticism’ of his modernist predecessors was that their experiments only held sway while ‘we are prepared to be mystified and outraged’, adding that such an approach has ‘no lasting power’. The literature intended to replace and outlast the ‘primitives and decadents of necessity’, in Yvor Winters’s phrase, would be by Larkin’s own engineering, ‘about ordinary sane people doing ordinary sane things’, presumably from ordinary places as well. ‘Why lament Troy fallen when Mathrafal lies in ruins?’, R.S Thomas asked when his predecessor had lamented the ‘Falling Towers’ of Jerusalem, Athens and Alexandria in The Waste Land. The poets of Rory Waterman’s Belonging and Estrangement would sooner mourn Launceston, Hull, and Welshpool.

Waterman is quick to address any potential charge of provincialism laid against these poets, calling his first chapter ‘Provincial and Universal’. He quotes Frost’s maxim, ‘You can’t be universal without being provincial… It’s like trying to embrace the wind’. In a sense, Frost’s assertion is also a criticism of the High Modernism that preceded Larkin, Causley, and Thomas and as such it provides a good jumping-off point for Waterman’s argument. One of the main caveats of his book is that a poem’s regionalism does not necessarily disqualify it from universal interest. In fact, for the poets of Larkin’s generation a sense of belonging was essential to their appeal, along with their unanimous distaste for modernist ‘over-­intellectualisation’, argues Waterman. Such ‘belonging’, although he does not expressly say it, was one of the ways in which poets attempted to re-engage their ...

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