PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: to access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing
‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing

(PN Review 236)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Kei MillerIn the Shadow of Derek Walcott
1930–2017

(PN Review 235)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Gratis Ad 2
Next Issue Peter Scupham at 85: a celebration Contributions by Anne Stevenson, Robert Wells, Peter Davidson, Lawrence Sail

This article is taken from PN Review 172, Volume 33 Number 2, November - December 2006.

Denise Riley John Muckle

Denise Riley's poetry always has a quiet, astringent quality. Even when dealing with what seems by now conventionally feminist material in her early poems, she is more likely to be dryly humorous than emotional. Her famous holiday poem

Not What You Think

wonderful light
viridian summers
deft boys
no thanks

seemed to say it all about Greek island hedonism: she'd rather stay at home with her books. Her neat fable 'A note on sex and the reclaiming of language' was a marvellous class-room standby for those seeking an explanatory myth to help their students into some of the issues surrounding feminism and language. Riley's poem is both myth and counter-myth. Woman is presented as 'The Savage ... flying back home from the New Country', her predicament identical with that of colonised black people, but she questions the empty prospects offered by being defined as 'other' in either case. Instead, she suggests:

                                     The work is
e.g. to write 'she' and for that to be a statement
of fact only and not a strong image
of everything which is not-you, which sees you

In a sense she has it both ways in her poetry - she is both 'the other' and a centrally defining female consciousness occupying the site of what is usually the male gaze, both object and subject; but this poem had all the right resonances for those who ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image