Locked and Barred

Robert Crawford

  • New Collected Poems by Elizabeth Jennings
    Carcanet, 386 pp, £9.95, February 2002, ISBN 1 85754 559 1

Like most poets, Elizabeth Jennings, who died two years ago, wrote too many poems. She was careless about her output, sending Michael Schmidt, her editor at Carcanet, ‘sacks’ of manuscript work to sift through and make into a collection. Even he seems occasionally to have lost track. His sympathetic and shrewd introduction records that her own favourite among her poems was ‘Fountains’, but there isn’t a poem called that. Schmidt means ‘Fountain’. This may be just a typo, but it’s a revealing one. If you read a lot of Jennings’s work, the poems blur into one another; there is too much repetition, too much rewriting of the same poem, too many neat little verse essays. There is a lack of rhythmical innovation; the grain of the language is often a smoother, less arresting version of that of Edwin Muir or George Herbert. It’s hard to believe most of these poems were written in the last quarter-century. One distinguished contemporary poet scowled when I told him I was reading Jennings’s Collected Poems: ‘Life’s too short.’

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