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This review is taken from PN Review 93, Volume 20 Number 1, September - October 1993.

SINGING AND SHOUTING DENISE LEVERTON A Door in the Hive/Evening Train (Bloodaxe) £8.95
MAYA ANGELOU, On the Pulse of the Morning (The Inaugural Poem) (Virago) £2.99
ANNE ROUSE, Sunset Grill (Bloodaxe) £5.95

There have always been two sides to Levertov; one in love with the world's beauty, the other enraged and appalled by human atrocities. Her earliest poems were written in the latter years of the Second World War, so it's not surprising if within them even the absence of terror has to be noted as an absence - 'The bloodless clarity of evening's sky/Betrays no whisper of the battle-scream' - and as the years have passed she has taken on the mid-century's catastrophes, Biafra, Vietnam, San Salvadore, one by one, her anguish and anger counter-pointed by poems about snails (though even these are not allowed to cop out in molluscous security but have 'eyes adept to witness/air and harsh light'), mountains, seasonal changes.

Sometimes the engagépoems have a strident directness which puts me, at least, on the spot as a reader. The integrity and passion are undeniable, but - there's something unavoidably patronizing about such a but- those features can't guarantee them as poems. Wilfred Owen's famous claim that 'The Poetry is in the pity' doesn't add up because the two categories are connected by a one-way valve, so to speak, enabling pity to be a component of poetry, but not the reverse. These two recent collections contain fewer examples of public pieces than those of Levertov's middle years, though her opera libretto, San Salvadore: Requiem and Invocation, is as uncompromising and intractable as any: 'Blood Rape Kill Mutilate Death Squad Massacre…'

There is, however, a ...


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