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Other Poems and Other Poets

Donald Davie, 20 September 1984

Notes from New York, and Other Poems 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 64 pp., £4.50, March 1984, 0 19 211959 1
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The Cargo 
by Neil Rennie.
TNR Productions, 27 pp., January 1984
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Collected Poems 1943-1983 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 383 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 85635 498 8
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... Landor wrote: ‘Many, although they believe they discover in a contemporary the qualities which elevate him above the rest, yet hesitate to acknowledge it; part, because they are fearful of censure for singularity; part, because they differ from him in politics or religion; and part, because they delight in hiding, like dogs and foxes, what they can at any time surreptitiously draw out for their sullen solitary repast ...

Pound and the Perfect Lady

Donald Davie, 19 September 1985

Pound’s Artists: Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts in London, Paris and Italy 
by Richard Humphreys.
Tate Gallery, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 946590 28 1
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Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909-1914 
edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz.
Faber, 399 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 571 13480 7
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... Thanks to Clive Wilmer among others, an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, photographs and printed material bearing on Pound’s interests in ‘the visual arts’ was mounted for the Cambridge Poetry Festival on 14 June, and could be seen in Cambridge’s not sufficiently renowned Kettle’s Yard Gallery until 4 August; it will now be at the Tate from 11 September to 10 November ...

Looking Up

Donald Davie, 15 July 1982

The Passages of Joy 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 93 pp., £4, June 1982, 0 571 11867 4
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The Occasions of Poetry 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 188 pp., £6.95, June 1982, 0 571 11733 3
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... In the past, I have been persuaded by those like Colin Falck who have thought Thom Gunn’s distinctive and great achievement was to have re-established creative connections with at least one aspect of Shakespeare, and with some of Shakespeare’s great contemporaries, notably Marlowe and Donne. Gunn, I believe, liked this notion, and Clive Wilmer endorses it in his excellent and too brief Introduction to The Occasions of Poetry ...

Fallen Language

Donald Davie, 21 June 1984

The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Deutsch, 203 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 233 97581 0
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... If, when we rhyme ‘tomb’ with ‘womb’, we conceive that we are making a connection never before thought of, we are innocent indeed; and our innocence will rightly be derided – as a callowness in ourselves which the language that we use, British English, has long ago grown out of. We have shown ourselves to be less grown-up than the language that we attempt to bend to our immature purposes – an attempt that the language itself frustrates by appealing, implicitly and inevitably, to English-language-users more worldly-wise than we are ...

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... Fit audience, though few,’ said Milton; and thereupon declared the terms in which the issue of reader-response would be considered by poets from his day to ours. The widely-read author asks: ‘How many of these many readers are fit readers?’ And the non-selling author asks: ‘Are the fit readers so few?’ The first predicament is the worse ...

Scots wha hae gone to England

Donald Davie, 9 July 1992

Devolving English Literature 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 320 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198112983
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The Faber Book of 20th-Century Scottish Poetry 
edited by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 424 pp., £17.50, July 1992, 9780571154319
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... In books that go on about how the English have imposed their language and their manners on other English-speaking nations (Australian, Canadian, Scottish and Welsh and Irish, others), what is striking is how that Anglocentrism, allegedly located in London and Oxbridge mostly, is supposed to be deeply satisfying to the English themselves. Robert Crawford, who pursues the argument on behalf of the Scots, avoids this mistake, detecting in a provincial Englishman like Tony Harrison a fury and resentment not surpassed by any Scot ...

Hearing about Damnation

Donald Davie, 3 December 1981

Collected Poems 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 262 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 19 211941 9
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... This volume represents more than forty years work by one of the most earnestly devoted and intelligent of our poets. Accordingly it must be considered deliberately, and at some length. Twenty-four years ago, reviewing Enright’s Bread Rather than Blossoms (for all practical purposes his second collection – leaving aside, that is, his 1948 Season Ticket, published in Alexandria), I exhorted him to remember ‘the deeper reaches (and so the deeper humanity) of the art he practises ...

Jokes

Donald Davie, 11 June 1992

In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets 
by Peter Robinson.
Oxford, 260 pp., £35, May 1992, 0 19 811248 3
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... It seems now that there was always something odd about Peter Robinson’s being the editor, in 1985, of Geoffrey Hill: Essays on His Work, from the Open University Press. Robinson’s sensibility, particularly as one had encountered it in his poems, pointed away from the aloofness of Hill’s attitude to his public, and away from Hill’s lofty and recherché diction, towards something plainer, more demotically awkward, more (the word presented itself) Wordsworthian ...

Second Chances

Donald Davie, 22 July 1993

Collected Poems 
by Patricia Beer.
Carcanet, 216 pp., £18.95, July 1990, 9780856357886
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Friend of Heraclitus 
by Patricia Beer.
Carcanet, 59 pp., £6.95, March 1993, 1 85754 026 3
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... Patricia Beer tells how not long ago she was giving a reading at which, presumably in a question-and-answer period, one after another in her small audience savaged a poem she’d written 25 years earlier, and hadn’t included in her programme. When after a while she asked if they wouldn’t switch to one of the two hundred poems she’d written since, it turned out that the early poem was the only one any of them had read, and this because it was the one that their tutor, who was present, had photocopied from an anthology and distributed among them ...

Pound’s Friends

Donald Davie, 23 May 1985

Pound’s Cantos 
by Peter Makin.
Allen and Unwin, 349 pp., £20, March 1985, 0 04 811001 9
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To Write Paradise: Style and Error in Pound’s Cantos 
by Christine Froula.
Yale, 208 pp., £18.50, February 1985, 0 300 02512 2
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Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing 
by Peter Nicholls.
Macmillan, 263 pp., £25, September 1984, 0 333 36159 8
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... Benjamin, Derrida, Eagleton (Terry), Foucault, Gramsci, Lukacs (and yes, in case you wondered, Davie); but it has no entries for Ford (F.M.), Gaudier-Brzeska, Hulme (T.E.), Ovid, Adrian Stokes, Yeats. Some of this is not easily excusable: it is timely to point out where the young Pound was in debt to Pater, but not without considering Yeats as possible ...

My Americas

Donald Davie, 3 September 1981

... We have all been told about the demographic shift in the United States from the North-East to the Sun Belt of the South-West; and the commentators on politics have been eager to explain that among the consequences of this shift is the Reagan Presidency. But our perception of US life and letters has not yet been affected; our listening posts on this side of the Atlantic seldom pick up the weak signals from Tucson or Albuquerque, on a wave-band still blanketed by the vociferous transmitters of New York ...

Gurney’s Flood

Donald Davie, 3 February 1983

Geoffrey Grigson: Collected Poems 1963-1980 
Allison and Busby, 256 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 419 4Show More
The Cornish Dancer 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 64 pp., £4.95, June 1982, 0 436 18805 8
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The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 420 8
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Blessings, Kicks and Curses: A Critical Collection 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 437 2
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Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney 
edited by P.J. Kavanagh.
Oxford, 284 pp., £12, September 1982, 0 19 211940 0
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War Letters 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Mid-Northumberland Arts Group/Carcanet, 271 pp., £12, February 1983, 0 85635 408 2
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... Many years ago Thom Gunn remarked: ‘To write poetry without knowing, for example, about the proper use of runovers used to be considered as impertinent as it would be now to apply for a job as a truck driver without knowing how to shift gear.’ (Wearily, in a sanguine attempt not to be misunderstood, he added: ‘It is true that being able to shift gears does not mean that one can drive straight or that one has the necessary stamina to keep the job, but it is a prerequisite ...

Browning and Modernism

Donald Davie, 10 October 1991

The Poems of Browning. Vol. I: 1826-1840 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin.
Longman, 797 pp., £60, April 1991, 0 582 48100 7
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The Poems of Browning. Vol. II: 1841-1846 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin .
Longman, 581 pp., £50, April 1991, 9780582063990
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... Browning is in high favour once again, or promises to be. Has not A.S. Byatt, CBE, declared him ‘one of the very greatest English poets’? In a switch to fighting talk, she adds that ‘his greatness has never been fully acknowledged or described ... in part because he is difficult to docket in terms of the usual literary discussions of Victorian Poetry ...

Donald Davie and the English

Christopher Ricks, 22 May 1980

Trying to Explain 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 85635 343 4
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... fact of being everywhere a foreigner was probably an assistance to his native wit.’ And Donald Davie, who everywhere has his native wits about him, has he profited much from living abroad? In half-praise of George Steiner, Davie floats ‘a tradition of high-flying speculation about literature, which we ...

In praise of manly piety

Margaret Anne Doody, 9 June 1994

The 18th-Century Hymn in England 
by Donald Davie.
Cambridge, 167 pp., £27.95, October 1993, 0 521 38168 1
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... Donald Davie is already known for – among many other things – his striking comments on the hymns of Watts and Wesley in A Gathered Church: The Literature of the English Dissenting Interest 1700-1930 (1978). Now he has devoted an entire book to the hymn in 18th-century England – or rather, as the title indicates, he is trying to define a specific genre or set of modes and tones that constitute ‘the 18th-century hymn ...

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