Collected Poems

J. H. Prynne, Author Bloodaxe Books $25.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-85224-492-7
Many readers of so-called innovative or experimental verse regard Prynne as Britain's most important living poet. Until now, most of his work has been available only in small editions and chapbooks. This collection of all Prynne's books, from The Kitchen Poems (1968) to For the Monogram (1997), is therefore a literary event without recent parallel. Prynne, who teaches at Cambridge University, is the center of a group known as the Cambridge poets. His peculiarly local influence is no accident, since he has stayed away from large-scale publishing; he made this decision partly to honor the poems' quiet, hermetic quality, and partly as a response to the absorption of experimental poetics into academic parlance-a parallel, for Prynne, to capitalism's absorption of opposition. Prynne's difficulties demand, and reward, close attention. His early work shows what he learned from Charles Olson, switching from personal to political to geological frames of reference in a single phrase. Enjoyable for their complex logic and concealed wit, these early poems often alternate incompatible metres, creating a distinctive discursive cascade. Next to these recalcitrant works Prynne has placed sequences like ""Day Light Songs,"" more lyrical, less dense and equally accomplished: ""And so when it does/ rain & will glide/ down our necks like/ glances into/ the soul, drop/ lets work their/ way forward the sinus/ is truly the scent/ of the earth, upraised."" While never a rabble-rousing avant-gardist, Prynne continues to make startling discoveries. Not-You (1993) introduces staggered lines that fall together like tone clusters: ""Her pan click/ elb/ second fix/ for them/ pencil/ breather park/ over/ talk at small to."" Her Weasels Wild Returning (1994) fuses its dense phrasings to create a consistent persona: ""I saw/ her wings in speedy strip like a shadow in the sand/ or in growth like natural reason, her heart so vast..."" Prynne's reticence belies his powers-powers many more readers can now hear. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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Hardcover - 440 pages - 978-1-85224-491-0
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