In Defence of Myself

A poet complaining about a bad review invites further ridicule, but Rob Withers' hatchet job on Poor Tom's Revenge (Envoi 134) went beyond the bounds of fair comment.

The only two poems mentioned by name happen to be on facing pages, and one of them was presumably plucked from the table of contents because its title fitted the "Caught in the Frame" theme of Withers' piece. He writes of Stop-Frame Sequence that "nothing in the poem makes any kind of point about the violent act". There is, admittedly, no line stating in so many words that dropping concrete blocks on people is a Bad Thing, but the phrase "small Olympus" could have been taken as a pointer to the view that it is terrifyingly easy to kill from a distance, playing God with other people's lives.

...which is observed by the boy from his small Olympus,
as his heart begins to beat with elated horror
at such a bodying forth of imagination...
Withers is not the first to be repelled by Hard Man, a poem that I, too, find disturbing. It says that there are predators in the world who are fully self-possessed and self-aware and who care nothing for our feelings, interests and scruples. It shouldn't be necessary to state that the speaker's voice is not that of the poet.

Everything else is scooped into the following capacious dismissal: "Protest, ironic critiques of capital, underlying aggression and suppressed violent acts appear without evaluation in Poor Tom's Revenge". A thoughtful reader might wonder how a "critique of capital" that was "ironic" could at the same time be "without evaluation". No one would guess that most of the poems are about guilt, grief and simple mortality, without so much as a pinprick of violence unless Withers proposes to set himself up as my poetry's Freudian psychoanalyst and argue that the absence of overt violence is in itself proof that "suppressed violent acts" are lurking in each poem's subconscious. I am willing to send a copy, sale or return, to any reader of Envoi who would like to make up his or her own mind.

© Brian Fewster,
Envoi 136, 2003

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