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This review is taken from PN Review 103, Volume 21 Number 5, May - June 1995.

CHOOSING TO BE SWANS PAULINE STAINER, The Ice Pilot Speaks (Bloodaxe)£6.95
CONNIE BENSLEY, Choosing To Be A Swan(Bloodaxe)£6.95
JOAN NEWMAN, Coming of Age (BlackstaffPress, Belfast) £5.99
HEATHER BUCK, Psyche Unbound (Anvil)£6.95
GILLIAN ALLNUTT, Blackthom (Bloodaxe)£6.95

Pauline Stainer is very much on a plateau with The Ice Pilot Speaks, her third collection. The Stainer style is so well defined that few people could complain that she either sounds like other poets or fails to achieve her aims as an artist, yet there is a lack of tension displayed in this book which could come from an over-generous selection. Pruning would have benefited Stainer's rarefied clarity and displayed more of her art at its best. There is enough room to move within her imaginative world as it is, without spoiling the effect by including some less consequential work - there is a danger that style can become an end in itself, and what we see is refined picture frames rather than the picture. But Stainer's grasp of language and otherness is far beyond what many poets produce, and when faced with 'Christ in a Chimerical Landscape', for instance, one can only marvel at her command of scientific-plus-religious vocabulary.

The thing about Connie Bensley is that she has her work published in such spectacular places - The Observer, Poetry Review, the TLS. The trouble is, Choosing To Be A Swan contains those wry observations of suburban life which so clutter up the poetry shelves with their small concerns. Although well produced and undeniably entertaining, these little packets of 'life's little surprises' are not too far removed from Pam Ayres and Sunday afternoons at the megastore with the kiddies. Unfortunately this is what many readers want, ...


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