Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
on 20 June 2013
If this were in a supermarket, it would be in the bit marked 'essentials'. This very slim edition contains the poems; in fact, by apparent accident it contains one of them twice, on pp.20 and 28, once with its correct title and once (differently spaced on the page) without. The text is the same in both versions but the punctuation isn't. Beyond that, there's just an editorial introduction running to 4 fairly brief paragraphs and beginning unpromisingly with the defensive 'it seems to me'. Its concluding contention that Rosenberg's finest achievements are 'at least equal in depth and emotional impact as well as verbal dexterity to anything written by Wilfred Owen' is a tenable point of view, but is left completely unsubstantiated by any kind of critical reflection. Fair enough, for the money, perhaps; but a kitchen-table-project scrappiness attends the whole presentation. I'm not sure who Will Johnson is, but he is plainly a very, very poor editor, quite possibly doing it for the first time. This has the air of a self-published project with no very obvious aim in mind. The typeface fluctuates in size according to the layout of the poems and, viewed simply as an object, this is an unlovely book. Rosenberg's verse itself is another matter. I've long been put off a lot of the poetry of this period and context because it was constantly the public school 'officer class' that got its work anthologised and published, much of this still breathing the fustian 19th-century air of a Classical education. Ironically Rosenberg, the social outsider to this group, brought up in testing circumstances mostly in the East End, often exceeds them at their own game - and yet his subject matter is unsparingly grim, often in a harrowingly close-up, rub-your-nose-in-it way (see 'Dead Man's Dump', which does very much what it says on the tin). The quality of Rosenberg's intimate observation brings startling pathos to a fair handful of these unusual, unclassifiable, frankly uneven poems, which have long merited far wider attention. The mismatch between formal convention and hideous subject matter is well worth the experience.
Personally I'd recommend this edition only if the poems are literally all you need and you're not bothered about the presentation. If you want any kind of worthwhile critical introduction and contextualisation, forget it - you can find it elsewhere and it will be worth the extra outlay.