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This review is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Cover of How Poems Think
Evan JonesOn the Side of the Highway
Reginald Gibbons, How Poems Think
(University of Chicago Press, 2015)
$25
REGINALD GIBBONS begins this study with the qualification that his reading of poems is somewhere between Donald Davie’s ‘resolve not to write in a way that is not a challenge to himself as he is’ and Helene Cixous’s ‘unforeseen, unanticipated, and even apparently mistaken articulation [which] is the invaluable entrance to imaginative freedom’. One very English, the other very French, naturellement. But it’s quickly apparent that Davie will take centre stage, and that he’ll be overacting. There is a strange sort of combativeness to Gibbons’s reading of Davie, which may well have to do with this quote, garishly flashing like hazard lights on the side of the highway in chapter 1:


By the time I last talked with him, on the occasion of a celebration of his career at Vanderbilt University in 1988, the year of his retirement and, at last, return to England, we had not seen each other for years, and in a letter he had sent me in 1986, he had expressed his hope that I would never again write poems like those in my book of that year.


Ah yes, here’s a carwreck. The first chapter is all like this, more the beginnings of a biographical piece on Davie and the sixties than criticism as such – and like nothing else in the book. I can’t tell if this is axe-grinding or not on Gibbons’s part, because he acknowledges Davie’s importance clearly. And yet. What he does in chapter 1 draws out something of Davie’s character. But at the same time, Gibbons ...


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