Broadening Ocean

Brad Leithauser

  • Natural Causes by Andrew Motion
    Chatto, 57 pp, £4.95, August 1987, ISBN 0 7011 3271 X
  • A Short History of the Island of Butterflies by Nicholas Christopher
    Viking, 81 pp, $17.95, January 1986, ISBN 0 670 80899 7

Two poets, writing in nearly the same language (British English, American English) and born at nearly the same time (1952, 1951). One, Andrew Motion, is quite well-known in this country, though an unfamiliar name to most readers of verse in America. The other, Nicholas Christopher, is one of the most celebrated of America’s younger poets but – I suspect – an unknown figure in England, at least as a poet (his novel, The Soloist, was published by Pan last year). In each case, this disparity in reputation – this failure, or at least delay, in the gaining of a transatlantic reputation – would seem, on the face of it, rather mysterious, since each is an accessible and rewarding writer. Any explanation of the mystery probably must begin with the distressing lack of literary interchange between the two countries at present – a lack far more pronounced with poetry than with fiction. Two poets, then, sharing language, youth, and a broadening ocean.

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