Raine takes great pride in his off-rhymes and in the use of essentially non-metrical lines which together appear like classical couplets. Such affectations are very common nowadays, especially among academics whose posture is to refer to classical means if not actually use them. While the art is designed to affect a certain, rough reality -- who speaks with real rhymes and metered lines? -- for this writer the result is generally cloddish, even idiotic, as though a brain-damaged author had performed surgery on someone else's work. Tony Harrison, a working class poet of immense power (akin to his mentor-in-spirit Louis MacNiece), and one no less shy about subject matter than Raine, creates beautiful couplets, often with perfect rhyme, yet manages a tone that one would never mistake for an Oxford don trying to pass for a longshoreman. And such "passing" for one of da guys is really at the heart of what's wrong with such an approach. While Harrison (or Frederick Feirstein in the U.S.) uses elegant poetic art to transmit often rough content with unmistakable clarity and passion, in Raine the deliberate fracturing of poetic art transmits the sensibility of a lout trying to tell a story about a love affair.
Note that the criticism is not directed at Raine's various physical descriptions of himself or of the anonymous lover. Who would bother criticizing those? It's been nearly a century since the first of Lawrence's stories and nearly seventy-five since Ulysses, nevermind Henry Miller or e.e. cummings. Among contemporary American poets, Feirstein is at least as vivid, as is Marilyn Hacker, and there has been a parade of poets, straight or gay, going back to the 1930's, who have celebrated sex without feeling the need to cover up details. The difference between the two poets mentioned and Raine is that both Feirstein and Hacker are unashamed to speak that way using traditional means, and in doing so they sacrifice nothing of the humor, pathos, sweat and other sticky stuff that Raine employs in The Way It Was, yet do manage a vivid, narrative clarity and coherence while Raine presents something akin to a string of barely-connected notations.
Indeed, the strongest sense this reader had throughout could be summed
as follows: couldn't you have taken the time to make a poem of these,
to do more than chop the notes up into ragged lines with rhymes so distant
that they seem more like a private joke on rhyme than a method?
Considering the subject, an elegiac meter might well have been a good choice;
it might also have encouraged something more than simply the details.
Perhaps we might have gotten a better sense of the story and of
the love, if there was one.
Note: The absense of cites reflects the sensitivity of commercial
magazines; when the book is released, there will be a more complete review.