Gavin Ewart Douglas Dunn - Essay

Douglas Dunn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gavin Ewart's verse has sometimes been thought too close to doggerel for comfort, or too facile. These opinions ignore Ewart's poetic temperament. His varieties of comic verse are, like Enright's tones of voice, technical expressions of a seriously presented mischief. Given half a chance—a pension, say—Ewart could be a trouble-maker of the first water. The air of carelessness about his poems is nothing other than cheek, and, indeed, an "air of" rather than "carelessness." In … Be My Guest!, "The Larkin Automatic Car Wash", for instance, imitates the stanza of "The Whitsun Weddings" with as tight a control of colloquial idiom as the original. Ewart, then, can be as metrically tight as he likes; that he doesn't always like is more to the point. He is fond of variety and the inane perspectives created by out-of-place metres like the limerick….

Peculiarly English to the point of rating "charm" as an important poetic effect, Ewart is courageous in his reliance on verse. He is closer to Thomas Hood than any other poet I can think of, and in "The Afterflu Afterlife" he rhymes in the virtuoso manner of the Hood beloved by Auden. Each verse has the same five rhymes. The poem includes the deathless

    We heard the dead word "troth" once in Arbroath

which may well be intended as the most blatant line-for-the-sake-of-a-rhyme in English. But Ewart is that sort of poet—gamey, exploiting what...

(The entire section is 414 words.)