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This review is taken from PN Review 50, Volume 12 Number 6, July - August 1986.

SWEET AND SHARP Fleur Adcock, Selected Poems (OUP) £4.95 pb.

Some poets are so good that writing about their work is simply a matter of doing one's humble best to define their qualities - and leaving it at that. Fleur Adcock is such a poet. Her artful artlessness lies in a near perfect ability to dispose words about a poem, as if a poem were an artefact as crude and preconceived as a jigsaw, this poet alone had the box that contained all the pieces, and these pieces were words - which must be a conceited trick because language is nothing if it is not our common heritage . . .

Nevertheless, this is work of an uncommon excellence, multi-verdant, vigorously made, a work at times as curious and quirkish as Marianne Moore's. (Both have written poems about the pangolin, for example. In Moore's, the creature is described as a 'near artichoke' and in Adcock's it 'goes/ disguised as an artichoke.' She can be pleasingly circumlocutory too: 'There is much to be said for abandoning/this no longer novel exercise -' Could that scrupulous negative not be taken for Marianne Moore?)

She is never timid emotionally - but never shrill. She possesses an acute intellectual reserve, the reserve of a stranger who is too often aware of trying, trying so hard, to comprehend the customs of strangers. That fine poem 'In the Dingle Peninsula' deserves to be compared with something buried deep in Heaney's North. Heaney, that monarch of the slime kingdom, is rooting, ever rooting ...


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