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The Kentish Rebellion by Robert Selby

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“The reader is immediately plunged into this account of resistance in Kent during the Civil War as if hearing a contemporary news bulletin. It is a tribute to Robert Selby’s confident fractured narrative and taut diction that the complexities of this conflict between theological authoritarianism and traditional cultural and economic interests are allowed to unfold so teasingly and suggestively in resonance with (and with allusions to) our own age. One of his major characters, the antiquarian Sir Edward Dering, himself politically conflicted, eventually decides that he simply wants ‘to be left in peace […] to run oasts and orchards’. The climax is, of course, the attack by General Fairfax on Maidstone in 1648 in a drenching thunderstorm. The poem is immensely resourceful in its descriptive range and in its accelerating or staccato phrase-making, and it is never less than kinetically vivid and exciting in its varied formal procedures. It makes the reader think a good deal about the relationship between doctrinaire politics and the private good, because Selby shows very clearly how it could all be happening now: ‘We all must submit to a militant virtue / as stifling as the sin at which it is aimed.’” – John Fuller

“Selby skilfully interleaves modern reportage with history to remind us how bravery and atrocity, serendipity and bad luck, are always the companions of war. Armies clash across a flooding Medway at dead of night and in the freezing cold; ordinary men and women die for their beliefs; politicians stoke ‘hydra heads of rebellions’. The language is spiky, lyric, formal and demotic by turns, carrying us headlong in the rage and turmoil of a society divided against itself.” – Hilary Davies



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