Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Aftermath: Selected Writings 1960-2010

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Aftermath: Selected Writings 1960-2010

Article excerpt

Aftermath: Selected Writings I960-2010. By RONALD BLYTHE. Ed. by Peter Tolhurst with a foreword by Richard Mabey. Norwich: Black Dog Books. 2010. 487 pp. £18.99.

The aftermath', said Andrew Marvell, 'seldom or never equals the first herbage'; and those who relished Ronald Blythe's Field Work: Selected Essays (2007), may fear this to be the case when they glance through Aftermath's list of contents. There are major items in this sequel: notably the essay on that great essayist William Hazlitt which one was disappointed not to find in Field Work. But the great majority of the hundred-odd pieces here reprinted are book reviews - and the short review is considered by many readers to be as ephemeral as a bus ticket: something to be jettisoned and forgotten once it has determined whether or not we read the book.

To my surprise, however, I found these short pieces wholly satisfying, and not just for the reason that, having previously overlooked many of the titles, I now have a revitalised library list. All through his long writing career, Ronald Blythe has practised and perfected the short, reflective piece - most notably in the journal of Suffolk parish life that he has contributed week by week to the Church Times. His success in this genre is in large measure due to the fact that for him writing, as Richard Mabey says in his introduction to this new collection, is simply conversation. So much is implied in the title Talking about John Clare, and likewise in its author's insistence that the essay as a genre thrives today on Radio Four. For the born writer-as-talker, most speech

acts reach their natural close in ten minutes or so. Because real talk, as distinct from exposition and analysis, is always discursive, anything longer runs the risk of its readers finding themselves unable to see the wood for the trees. Blythe's short pieces, however, are shapely copses, with all the grace and high definition of the Wittenham Clumps as depicted by his favourite artist, Paul Nash - some of whose woodcuts front the various sections of Aftermath.

Before a book reviewer can talk to the reader, he or she needs to listen to the writer. …

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