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It is five years since Rowbotham’s Selected Poems, one of that extraordinary number of summing-up volumes that has been, perhaps, last decade’s most telling and characteristic factor. The need to gauge one’s own work (and focus) from some working perspective has always been the basis of a living poet’s Selected Poems. But this decade’s perspective makers have, almost without exception, shared an additional, if implied, purpose: their selections point to a stocktaking rather than a summarising intention.
It has been a decade of challenge, change, and consolidation. Certainly, the sense of self-scrutiny, self-evaluation and self-conscious insistence on ‘being counted’ is new. And the most exciting corollary has been the thrust put on the succeeding performance: already the ‘successor’ volumes by Bruce Beaver, David Campbell, John Blight, Rodney Hall, and Robert Adamson have considerably enlarged our perspectives on these writers: their most recent collections have not so much made the Selecteds out-of-date but have forced any evaluation of their achievements to omit them at great risk. Les Murray’s The Boys Who Stole The Funeral could be similarly described, though perhaps it more properly crystallises certain elements rather than (as with the others listed) moves beyond them. The test for any poet, then, after a Selected Poems, is that the successor volume must in some way move out of the shadow of that defining book, either to crystallise or to transcend it. Or to spring off into a new direction.