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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

PHONEMES ASSEMBLE Matthew Sweeney, The Flying Spring Onion (Faber and Faber) £4.99 pb
Simon Rae, Soft Targets (Bloodaxe Books) £5.95 pb
John Adlard, the Lichfield Elegies (The Aylesford Press) np pb

Presentation to a large extent conditions perception. The Flying Spring Onion is billed as Matthew Sweeney's first collection of poems for younger readers which immediately raises certain expectations and even perhaps prejudices. Some of the poems appeared last year in an issue of The Printer's Devil mixed in with some of Sweeney's 'adult' work; the magazine chose not to distinguish which was which as the editors felt the children's poems had a 'sinister edge that [allowed] them to double as intriguing reading for adults'. Perhaps the most striking thing about this collection is just how close it is to Sweeney's poetry for big people.

Sweeney's adult work to date has been notable for its deadpan tone - Roger McGough but blacker; its broken narratives, middles of stories and eavesdroppings on bizzarre moments; and its refusal of symbols and explanations. Similar procedures are at work here: characters and events are presented but never explained in poems that appear to talk about freedom, dreams, escape and imagination but never quite reveal themselves as parables or allegories, as in the title poem or 'Cows at the Beach' about a bovine break-out.

Some of the other poems are, as The Printer's Devil spotted, very sinister indeed, particularly 'Mr Bluejack' in which a man who likes putting his head in the freezer when it gets too hot ends up shutting his two sons in there instead. I wouldn't want any child of mine reading a poem like that. The Flying ...


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