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ISSUE 22

BEING ALIVE, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe Books, 2004, 512 pp £10.95 ISBN 1 85224 675 8  

I happen to have been a school teacher myself and know how difficult it is to find poems that appeal to teenagers. And when 1 managed to keep up a lively discussion about a poem, I was pleased with myself Ah, but what sort of poem was it? Please don't ask me that. The kids were interested and that was a step in the right direction.

So now when I see that Neil Astley- the successful publisher of Bloodaxe poetry and personal editor of many anthologies- gets plenty of flak from the likes of The Times Literary Supplement, I think they've got the wrong end of the stick. Only last April 15 the TLS in four hostile paragraphs (p. 14) again proved their misunderstanding of what Bloodaxe is all about. It's his "marketeers' instincts" that Neil Astley is so proud of and that the TLS find unforgivable. OK they'll never agree. OK those glorious, glitzy Bloodaxe brochures will not please everybody. But surely there's plenty of room for everybody on the poetry scene.

The point is that versus the whingeing poetry-doesn't-sell brigade there is the look-I'm-selling-poetry-Uke-hot-cakes one-man brigade. And by God, it seems to hurt, it seems to hurt a helluvalot

Neil Astley is in fact reaching out to a different readership altogether. He has set himself the daunting task of going out in search of those who, for some reason or other, don't normally read poetry. Of course, once Bloodaxe has helped them over their reticence they might end up not only by reading more of the poets on offer but even, who knows, by subscribing to the TLS, or PNReview for that matter, who also had a swipe at Bloodaxe.

Saying there are different kinds of readers, and even different ways of reading poetry, and therefore the market - yes, the market - should offer as wide a variety, as inclusive a range, as possible is not dumbing down. The cultivated readers - the semi-cultivated are another matter - will be happy to be introduced to poets they have never heard of- however "minor" some of them may turn out to be.

But then Neil Astley himself can be unhelpful and even rude. In his lecture at St Anza, Scotland's Poetry Festival, at Parliament Hall, St Andrews on 18 March 2005 (and I almost crashed my printer downloading it from the internet), Neil Astley is accusing, yet again, those who are not with him of being elitist, dinosaurs and what not. Oh dear, he does himself no favours by his sweeping generalisations and tarring everyone with the same brush. If he goes on like this he will become part of the problem not part of the solution. Of course the market-place is a tough, bitchy, vicious, back-stabbing sort of place, but to the market one has to go. And there is no point in getting paranoid about it.

Come on, life is far too interesting to spend time ranting against all and sundry in this way. Yes, "the rest of the poetry world seems hell-bent on self-destruction..." So what? If they sink the better the rest will swim. For God's sake, this is getting boring. They may baste their arrogance with their own seam (guess where I got that from) as far as I'm concerned. Ranting so much about a certain Nobody, as Neil Astley does, "That were to enlard his fat-already pride" (see, I'm also being elitist). So let's calm down and get on with the job.

Being Alive is a sequel to Staying Alive; and we are promised a third volume, Being Human. So we have that to look forward to rather than worrying about what So-and-so said or did not say. What counts is not what people say but what they do.

And what Neil Astley has done here is give us a selection of some 300 poets - about 100 of which did not appear in the previous Staying Alive-poets from Peru to Poland, from Brazil to Belfast, from Chile to Chicago. All of them, except Emily Dickinson, from Yeats onwards.

In his introduction to Being Alive, Neil Astley sets out his aims of making poetry interesting to a wider readership, and points out quite rightly that accessibility and excellence can go hand in hand. Sadly he overdoes the list of positive responses to Staying Alive. There is no need for this. The books speak for themselves. On the other hand, it's only human that Neil Astley should be on the defensive bearing in mind how unfairly he is treated by those who will not admit that the ends ( selling poetry) can justify the means (puffed-up publicity).

The reader's interest is immediately kindled by the way the poems are grouped under ten themes which both differ from and overlap the twelve themes in Staying Alive. At the opening of each section there are a couple of quotations about poetry by poets. Stimulating and food for thought. All the more stimulating if controversial. Then a short introduction which, again, different readers will find helpful in different ways. Referring to Cavafy' s "Ithaca", about the joys of voyage and discovery, we are told who the Laistrygonians were. I hope that's not dumbing down.

Then the poems themselves. About 500 in all. Reading poems by themes is enriching because similar or dissimilar poems set side by side can shed light on one another and spur the reader's awareness. So in the section "A Mad World" (which covers ground similar to that of "War and Peace" in Staying Alive) "The Diameter of die Bomb", translated from the Hebrew of Yehuda Amichai, about the far-reaching destruction of a bomb, is enhanced by the preceding "Casual Wear", by the American James Merrill, about a terrorist attack, and the following Normal MacCaig's "The Red and the Black" about the uncomfortable presence of evil. From here we are led on to poems written under the impact of 11 September. In "The Wound Man" Sinead Morrisey imagines the Spanish poet Lorca, who witnessed the Wall Street Crash of 1929, witnessing again the 11 September in New York. Equally complex but in a different way is John Burnside's "History"  

Today
- with the news in my mind and the muffled
dread of what may come-
I knelt down in the sand

But my personal favourite in this section is "Revenge" by the Nicaraguan Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy  

My personal revenge will be your children's
right to schooling and to flowers...
My personal revenge will be to give you
these hands you once ill-treated
with all their tenderness intact

In the section "Daily Round" there are poems about urban life - in Manchester, Belfast, San Francisco, Detroit- as well as rural life and myths like Grace Nichols' "Sugar Cane". The London Underground is mentioned in Anne Rouse's villanelle "Her Retirement",

I leave you the later tube trains, dank
At the hand-rails from a human sea,
Dreaming down to Morden via Bank

And again in "To Virgil"

make me press the correct buttons
on the automatic ticket machine

by Helen Dunmore who, together with Derek Mahon and Czeslaw Milosz, has as many as six poems in the anthology. And, yes, she is a Bloodaxe poet but not so the other two.  

I must say I laughed heartily at Peter Didsbury' s " A Malediction"

Spawn of a profligate hog,
May the hand of your self-abuse
Be afflicted by a palsy...
My your teeth be rubbed with turds...

The section "Ends and Beginnings" is primarily about death, not necessarily in a sad or negative way. As well as a variety of approaches to the subject, mere are three poems in a row about candles and, further on, three about rooms - "candles" and "rooms" meaning different things in different poems. And together with old favourites by Larkin, Heaney and T. S. Eliot (yes, Eliot) there is Jane Kenyon' s "In the Nursing Home",  

She is like a horse grazing...
Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

The other sections of Being Alive, "Exploring the World", "Family", "Love Life" and so on are, needless to say, equally captivating.  

At the end of the book, as there would be no point in repeating "The Sound of Poetry" or the very useful Glossary in Staying Alive, the "Further Reading" section has been extended with reference to individual books, as well as anthologies and essays and handbooks. And, yes, you've guessed it, Neil Astley makes sure his Bloodaxe titles are on the list - and I don't blame him. There is a bit of comment on each book to help the reader choose. So, with all the inevitable omissions, this provides as good a starting point as any.  

I suppose the best way to read the book is by dipping in here and there. Or, as Denise Levertov says, "O Taste and See". Or ‘O Come and Read’. It's the sort of book we will never have finished with. We will be returning to it again and again, and it will lead us back to Staying Alive and will take us forward to Being Human when it comes out in 2006.

 

The Day Of The Sardine ISBN 1-873226-72-1

The Watchers and the Watched ISBN 1-873226-73-X by Sid Chaplin Flambard £8.99 each  

Sid Chaplin has a reputation as an authentic voice of working-class fiction. Set in his native north-east and published in 1961 and 1962 respectively, these two reissues explore adolescence, growth, work, material hardship, glib violence, love, marriage and parenthood among his working people . Each book has a hero: Arthur Haggerston in the first, Tim "Tiger" Mason in the second. In both cases, they reveal a way of thinking, a potential, an unease and a kicking against the pricks untypical of their community. Yet the books not only explore the typical, in a way, they sink into it.

Chaplin is not a great writer. He had talent but he didn't hone it enough. Alan Plater and Melvyn Bragg, in their introductions, over-rate him. There is a condescension in the attitude which sets him higher than he deserves. Lawrence came from the working-class but requires no special pleading. At times Chaplin's writing is simply sloppy. One small example: on page 112 of The Day Of The Sardine, in the space of eight lines he uses the word "light" three times. Such repetition needs to be carefully placed if it's deliberate and is going to be effective. Here, it looks like negligence. Chaplin's less than rigorous approach to style probably came from his urgent need to embrace relatively new subject matter from a relatively new perspective. Yet the loose ends, the inaccurate focus, the thoughtless word drag down the quality of the art and make the depiction of the world it treats less than accurate.

Nevertheless, Chaplin is an interesting case and read for their stories, their occasional sharp insights, their access to the minds of working-class north-easteners, these are worthwhile books. The Day Of The Sardine is something of a Bildungsroman in which Haggerston's first-person narrator takes a little too seriously some of his and his companions adolescent posturing. The Watchers and the Watched is superior by virtue of its territory. It explores honestly the difficulties of married life and is especially keen as far as Mason's cowardice in the face of his wife and the demands of erotic love is concerned. That Mason learns to become more of a man in facing up to what marriage means, is poignant, yet the underlying sense that relations between the sexes are marred by pettiness, withholding, egotism and fear ( especially among the men) lifts the book to the verge of the muscular exploration of a truly serious theme. It touches also on the terrible distortions of human sexuality engendered when families twist and parents abuse their potency: Tot, the peeping-Tom and near rapist has been abused by a clinging, narcissistic mother. In introducing such a character and theme, Chaplin begins to avoid the glib perspectives on working-class life which fail to take into account the intractable problems of our psychology, yet he resolves the problem of Tot in an inadequate way by suggesting towards the end of the book that having "clicked" his problems will be over. There is a hint of that naive utopianism throughout the books, though only a hint. For the most part, Chaplin is true to the depressing harshness and limitedness of his characters' lives while at the same time doing justice to the spirit of resistance and desire for change such circumstances are bound to engender. When he touches on the politics of that resistance, he can be astute. Uncle George, the pompous Labour man of The Day Of The Sardine is, to his nephew, a transparent meritocrat, lost in the contemplation of his own inflated ego and utterly lacking in the hard-headed modesty needed to effect real transformation. Plus ca change.

Chaplin had to struggle to make himself a writer. He succeeded. He could write. Like Joe Orton, what he lacked was an education. Orton was lucky: Kenneth Halliwell educated him. Chaplin was essentially self-taught. His lack of education shows in these books. To be a writer, you need to educate your mind to pay close attention to detail, which is where the devil always is. Chaplin was not to blame for his poor education. He was denied because he came from the working-class. In this way and others these books attest to the waste of poverty, the destructiveness of hierarchy, the violence of class and the derangement behind the pursuit of money.

 

Continued by Piotr Sommer ISBN 1-85224-702-9 £8.95  

This is Polish poet Sommer's second collection from Bloodaxe. He has taught in American universities and has clearly been influenced by the American demotic. The poems are all plain-style, down-beat, low-key, trying to touch off moments of epiphany by a concentration on the ordinary. In his chosen style, Sommer writes with great mastery, his tone is always perfectly controlled and the conversational tenor never sinks to mere banality. There is a fine six-page poem entitled Belated Letter in which the restrained imagination of the shorter pieces is given greater scope and which reveals just how expansive an effect an unadorned style can elicit The last two lines of Easter read:  

Let's go and see a friend to find out
who we are; he probably knows.  

an example of how a great and disturbing theme can be opened up in a simple way. The title poem too, just fourteen lines, is full of a sense of unease and doubt which emerges very quietly from its straightforward means.

 

Throw In The Vowels by Rita Ann Higgins ISBN 1-85224-700-2 £9.95  

Rita Higgins's New and Selected, is a substantial 224 pages which provides most of her poems to date. She is a poet of recognition, her work full of knowing references to the everyday and she is determined to turn her attention to the dirty, unpleasant underside of modern life, particularly the banal struggle of the poor to cope with exasperating and demanding circumstances. Many of her poems tell stories and all of them have a button-holing quality. Occasionally you feel more talked at than too and her word-play can be at the lower end of McGoughism, but she has a real talent for the surrealistic image, can be very funny and at her best can find connections between words which are surprising and delightful. You might call her a stand-up poet, ever conscious of needing to keep her audience with her. Some could say this is grabbing them in the one-and-nines, but her work is full of well-read references lightly employed. It would be impossible to read this book without finding half a dozen poems you'd want to return to, retain, tell others about. Enough for any collection. And some of those surrealistic effects are truly unforgettable.

 

Almanacs by Jen Hadfield ISBN 1-85224-687-1 £7.95  

Jen Hadfield was born in Cheshire, at the time of Gawain, a wild place of rough folk. There is one reference to the Green Knight, but the poems are set north of the border. Cheshire is very polite these days, which is perhaps why she felt the need for poetic relocation. She has a real poet's ear. Her parallelisms of sound spark attention and her rhythmic command is obvious. The best lines are these:  

Thirty pounds
tides back and forth across her dashboard
as she slaloms mini-roundabouts.  

Precise, surprising and eliciting a clear image attend by rich allusions. When she applies her poet's skill to bring focus as accurate as this she is full of promise. The poems form a sequence at the centre of which is Lorelei's Lore. There is plenty of ambition in this, a desire to reach something mythic, to transcend. Yet I'm brought back to those three lines above: sharp, clear and rooted in commonplace experience. Perhaps that's where her talent really lies ?

 

The Toast Of The Kit-Cat Club by Linda France ISBN 1-85224-677-4 £7.95  

A poetic biography of the colourful and fascinating Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, this is an excellent read simply as an introduction to its subject. Linda France introduces each poetic chapter by a prose explanation of the period and events it will cover. The poems themselves are direct and readable, voicing Montagu's hopes, joys, disappointments and despairs. Like Ronsard, France is at her best when she writes of love. The Letters To Edward which make up almost all of the second chapter are beautifully balanced and capture precisely the nervous hopes and fears of burgeoning love. It would be a shame to give away details of Montagu's life as discovering them is a real pleasure. France's idea of celebrating and introducing her subject in poetry is a fine one. Maybe others will follow her lead ?

 

What Narcissism Means To Me by Tony Hoagland ISBN 1-85224-689-8 £8.95  

Tony Hoagland's easy, conversational tone belies the high demands of his art. He makes it look easy. Rooted in the commonplace, his poetry has the knack of getting behind our customary masks. His essential territory is that of the modern American mind. His explorations are laconic, relaxed, friendly, funny yet telling and at times devastating. The final lines of the title poem read:  

... deep inside the misery
of daily life
loves lies bleeding.

The cliché almost jars. He gets away with it, however, because it's delicately ironised and comes at the end of a quietly hilarious meander through a set of attitudes which fail to recognize themselves as postures.

Superficially, Hoagland's poems look no different from the work of any number of contemporary writers, but his tone and perspective are unique. There is a lovely little poem called Narcissus Lullaby in which he explores the fact that by knowing we are loved we can:  

let
the whole factory of identity go
drifting in the dark....  

This is followed by an equally lovely piece, Windchime, which beautifully evokes the commonplace, tiny stimulants of erotic love and astutely claims them as far more potent than religious injunctions or moral absolutes. His theme is essentially the factory of identity and his target the glib, defended, immature and self-dramatizing selfhood so prevalent in modern times. Time and again, very deftly and with humour, he pinpoints how we fail to put Narcissus to sleep because we are manically proposing our own fraught identities and, lacking the sense we're loved, desperately trying to feign a secure sense of being we just don't have. In a poem about Lawrence he writes:

It's a bad day when people speak of their superiors with a contempt they haven't earned

That contempt for the superior mind and sensibility is the very essence of the phony, distorted, pseudo-democratic mentality which pervades our culture. Hoagland has a superior mind and sensibility and these poems glow with the wisdom, warmth, humanity, delight and plain common-sense they give off. A master.

 

The Fourth Quarter by David Craig ISBN 0-9548691-7-6 £5.99  

In a culture obsessed by youth it's heartening to encounter a poet who treats the nature of ageing. Some of the poems here are about David Craig's own cancer and they're poignant in their sense that illness changes and becomes a part of our identity. One of the charms of Craig's perspective is his thoroughgoing materialism, a source of far greater genuine wonder at the miracle of life than a sentimental and childish belief in some overseeing intelligence with a slide-rule and compass designing every protein and virus. All the poems reveal Craig's characteristic strong architecture and surprising choice of words. Clear, bright and sometimes rocky they never waver from high accomplishment and polish. There is a fine piece entitled What I Am about seeing in a "silver alloy cup" what has been taken from him during surgery. Set thinking about what makes him him, he evokes in four striking stanzas what Marx meant when he said: "Consciousness is an attribute of highly organised matter." 

These seventy kilos of tissues soft and hard:
They are enough for me.

For me too. The Rape and Old Age of Morag is a fine long poem and Robin's Escape connects old age to childhood in its subject of Robin Hood's unleashing of his final arrow. Where it lands, let him be buried. In his beloved forest. A sense of place, a delight in life even in its dimming. These poems are full of these qualities. In his fourth quarter, Craig is a better poet then ever.

 

The Erotics Of God by Sebastian Barker ISBN 0-9548691-6-8 £5.99

This collection falls into two sections, the longer title section and a shorter second, Spirit Of The River. In born, Sebastian Barker relies on his skill with rhyme and form. All the poems key into the ideas behind the book and there is an Epigraph, an Exegesis and Notes to clarify these. The poems, however, work in their own right as small units of energy held together by relatively conventional formal means. Barker handles these means cleverly so that never seem too anachronistic or intrusive. In a sense, then, this is two books in one: the poems can be read in their own right, or in the light of the organising ideas behind them.

 

Mr Irresistible by Angela Kirby ISBN 1 -904886-19-1 Shoestring Books £8.95  

The Mr of the title is not quite who you'd expect The poem in which he turns from lover into someone less welcome has all the hallmarks of Angela Kirby's no-nonsense, straightforward style. Not that this is in any way a detraction, on the contrary, in most of these poems she has achieved that oneness of content and expression which signals real talent. She hails from Lancashire and some of the down-to-earth, don't-take-yourself-too-seriously, black-humourish qualities of the lower orders of the county are at work here. There are two excellent and vitally honest poems about the death of her father, a witty and mischievously funny piece about Catholic education, a generous and wisely disillusioned piece about her estranged husband, a cleverly erotic little poem called Taxi Dreaming. Much more too. She has a fine sense of where to end a line and the rhythms and cadences of her poems are instantly attractive. Equally telling, she manages in every piece to hit that mid-point between writer and reader that is like a gracious invitation. Beautifully understated at times, often very intelligently funny, full of sharp observation and, that quality all poets would murder for, memorable, these are poems anyone with a taste for the modem genre will want to return to. Angela Kirby has written five previous books, none of them poetry. She is seventy-three. Marvelous to make such a unique debut at her age. May she live to a hundred and publish a collection every year, at least!

 

The Goodbye Edition by Carole Coates ISBN 1-904886-18-3 £8.95  

Leaving The Job, an excellent little poem about the difference between drudging for money and being busy at tasks you believe in, as well as the bemused attitude of the institutionalised worker to the active free spirit, is typical of Carole Coates's easy, familiar style. She can be sharp and not-to-be-messed-with too as in The Bad Sex Gallery.

 

The Cartographer Sleeps by Barbara Daniels ISBN 1-904886-14-0 £8.95  

Barbara Daniels likes to rhyme and takes the trouble to be subtle about it. Formal and poised, these poems nevertheless explore modem territory. She can write surprisingly about science, maths or geography, teasing out the human frailties behind apparently hard-headed knowledge. There's a very interesting interplay in these poems between a tightrope-walking balance and a wry, amused view of life that has a hint of Jane Austen's reserved humour .

 

The Outsider by Christine McNeill ISBN 1-904886-15-9 £8.95  

The lead poem, The Refugee, displays Christine McNeill's high, finely-wrought talent. She can evoke a scene, an attitude, an image in few and precisely chosen words. The compassion and sensitivity in these poems comes through all the more convincingly for the almost severe control of her means.

 

The Willy Poems by David Caddy Clamp Down Press, Cape Porpoise ME USA. £7.00.  

An abiding presence of the small presses as editor and writer, David Caddy has a deservedly high reputation. In this poem-series he explores the conditions of rural life through the experience of the outsider, Willy. Caddy has honed his skills as a poet over many years and there are no disappointing lines here. What is intriguing about this collection is its relationship to the urban reality outside of which it's set. The strangeness, in all senses, of Willy  

"descendant
of potato-faced, barrel-
bellied men and women...

brings to life the slowness, potential cruelty and entrapment of rural life. That Caddy manages to distil poems of clear modernity from this subject matter gives him a hint of Heaney. He is keen in his recognition of the way circumstance implies character:  

Whilst he thought he could disprove
the existence of the village,
his heart retained the marks of its holding.

Mention of the "Union Workhouse" connects the poems to a time of bitter hardship, elements of which continue into the rural present the book works as a comment on. Willy, victim of the poverty and outsidership the Workhouse represents, seems a baffled observer of his own experience. Treated with due seriousness and skill, his life, the life of his kind, is brought out of the shadows and into the full light of the poet's sympathetic intelligence. David Caddy has written an uncommon book which deserves to be widely read.

 

Living On The Difference by Mike Barlow ISBN 1-902382-62-3 £6.95 

Mike Barlow has spent half a lifetime working in the probation service and gets some wonderful poems from the experience. Believe This and Gate Fever are two examples here. As in all his poems, Barlow is as skilled, as practised and as appealing as a cyclist on a high-wire. There is something slightly breathtaking about a lot of his work. Microsurgery, for example, contains these lines:  

Ten minutes later the chopper passed so low you could hear
the thwack of rotors on the air like a slack belt drive.

That comparison has been dug out, is perfect and connects us to everyday experience so that poetry becomes the means to enfold the unnoticed banal. Barlow has real talent for this. He climbs mountains and there is something of the careful ascent of dangerous peaks about his approach. He never sets off at a glib lick; he is always perfectly prepared and you never feel you may fall from the cliff face, his hold is so sure and his careful charting of the route to the summit so expert. He seems to approach the hard rock of experience with the controlled strength and hardened grace of a climber and the result is poems that give off striking images almost inexhaustibly:  

I'd forgotten that look in your eyes
like a dirty joke you didn't know whether to tell.

This is a first-rate collection and Mike Barlow is an excellent poet. One of those writers who justify the existence of the small presses: the big houses aren't bringing out better work than this.

 

Mollusc by Helen Clare ISBN 0-9548280 0-3 Comma Poetry 3 Vale Bower, Mytholmroyd.  

The ever energetic and enterprising Ra Page makes a fine start in poetry publishing with this collection from the already very accomplished Helen Clare. It's interesting that the best poetry about science seems to be coming from women : Clare and Diana Syder in particular. The science poems in this book are fascinating. There is one called simply Biology which considers how perspective is absolute in determining our relation to living things. Others contain specific references to complex scientific knowledge embedded intelligently in poems of more general interest. The final section, The Gooseberry Bush, is about difficult conception. The other view of sex Clare touches on more than once has to do with toys and titillation. There's even a piece about undergoing a Brazilian ( with a nice little twist-in-the-tail reference to the sexually squeamish Ruskin). The effect is, perhaps, of a rather cold attitude to sex: a matter of the mechanics of either pregnancy or arousal. Clare is technically controlled, clever, erudite and often surprising. There is an excellent long poem about Rosalind Franklin which raises the important questions about women at work in traditionally male arenas and is full of Clare's remarkable poetic qualities.

 

the elephant in the corner by aoife mannix the tall lighthouse 33 Longhurst Rd SW13 SLR

ISBN1 904551 130 £7.00  

Aoife Mannix was born in Sweden though her ancestry is Irish. She has lived in New York and London. Something of this cosmopolitanism nestles in her work. Her poems display an openness to experience and a delight in variety. Her style is smiling and direct and though charmingly innocent she is never naive. My Revolution, for example, casts a wry light on the ideas of upheaval and utopianism:  

In my revolution there will be free ice cream  

Lines as straightforward yet as ironic as this are her common currency. Karma Settee, for example, neatly entwines mysticism, rent, comedy, the banal and the endurance of the spirit of betterment. Les Robinson's first-rate tall lighthouse has excellent standards of production and looks set to become an ever more impressive presence. Aoife Mannix is a canny choice.  

 

The Penny Bride/The Good Wife by Georgia Scott Poetry Salzburg ISBN 3-901993-17-7 / 3-901993-09-6  

Georgia Scott is a Bostonian now living and working in Gdansk. She has lived in Poland since 1994 and some of the poems here deal with the historical transformation of the country. The Good Wife(200l) especially deals with the era of Communism and the arrival of Solidarity. She evokes cleanly the atmosphere of suspicion, the frustrations in being unable to quickly settle everyday problems and the fear that stalks totalitarian regimes:  

The worst of it was the sound:
a window opening in the night
and a shout  

The common tendernesses and affections persist of course, as in The Strawberry Picker's Wife, a lovely, marvelously economic little piece which fuses the personal and the political to delineate where they should be sundered. The Penny Bride (2004) is less concerned with public events, as the blurb on the earlier volume promising a book of erotic poetry anticipates. It's epigraph is from Gide: "I often think...that my love is the best part of me." The book is an attempt to celebrate erotic love, but there are a few unpleasant drunks at the celebration. The Big One, for example, is a quick poem about mutual lying. The suspicion here echoes that of totalitarianism and is as far from love as democratic centralism from democracy. Still, there are many pieces here which successfully ease the delight of fulfilled erotic love into view. No small accomplishment.