On the Turn
- Collected Shorter Poems: 1966-96 by John Peck
Carcanet, 424 pp, £14.95, April 1999, ISBN 1 85754 161 8
Poets whose work has a kinship with that Ezra Pound are likely to be ignored. This is the case with the American poet John Peck, who, now in his late fifties, with a massive and challenging achievement behind him and the devotion of an active British publisher, is unknown not only to general readers but to those who think they know about modern poetry. To be strictly accurate, Peck is not a card-carrying Poundian – such poets tend to be tiresome – but there are several points of convergence. He resembles Pound in the quality of attention that is present in his sensuous evocations; particulars are delectably rendered in their otherness and, as in Pound, are sometimes clues to the larger order of things. Like Pound, he is fascinated by those activities that suggest dialogues between matter and consciousness – stone-carving, clay-moulding, carpentry and other crafts. He shares Pound’s enthusiasm for a wide range of languages and cultures and has memorably translated in the Poundian manner. In particular, he has a keen interest in Chinese poetry and thought, which have probably made an even more profound impression on his work than they did on Pound’s. (His third book, Poems and Translations of Hi-Lö, is in spite of its title an original work which purports to have been written by a Chinese medical student living in Zurich, where Peck was studying at the time.) Perhaps his greatest debt to Pound is a mastery of the singing line that seems to owe little to formal prosody, though many of his poems are written in orthodox metres.