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This review is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

Cover of Complete Poems
Peter HughesCook Ting R.F. LANGLEY
Complete Poems ed. Jeremy Noel-Tod
(Carcanet, 180pp PB) £12.99

This book already feels like a classic. This may be partly because some of the poems have been familiar texts since they first appeared in the pamphlet Hem, published by Nigel Wheale’s infernal methods press back in 1978. It may be because of the bright sense of patience, attentiveness and linguistic alacrity which characterise the writing from the start.

It is significant that the start was not an early one. When that first pamphlet appeared Langley was forty years old. When Twelve Poems, which included the poems from Hem, came out from the same press in 1994 the author was fifty-six.

‘Man Jack’, the first poem in the Complete Poems, is a good introduction to Langley. ‘Jack’ became a kind of alter-ego, a talismanic word whose multifarious meanings he delighted in investigating and incorporating into poems.

                                […] your little cousin
Jack, a step ahead, deep in the hedge, on
edge, a kiss a rim, at pinch, in place, turn
face and tip a brim, each inch of him, the
folded leaf, the important straw.

Langley’s sounds seem to flicker and glint, yet the endless activity is presented in elegant ten-syllable lines. This carefully regulated line will frequently frame observed or imagined bustle as he scrutinises birds, insects, details of a painting and foregrounds the tantalising qualities of individual words.

Sixteen years ago Roger Langley sent me a poem called ‘Rauschenberg’ for a festschrift I was editing for Peter Riley. Characteristically, the poem drew upon his ...

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