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This review is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

VOICES OFF ALICE OSWALD, A Sleepwalk on the Severn (Faber) £7.00

TOM CHIVERS, The Terrors (Nine Arches Press) £5.00

DAVID HART, The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks (Nine Arches Press) £8.00

How much can you fit into a pamphlet? Alice Oswald’s A Sleepwalk on the Severn finds room for a ‘poem in several registers’, a basis for performance; ‘not a play’ notes the careful introduction. Commissioned by Gloucestershire County Council (well done!) her poem explores the Severn Estuary under the phases of the moon, with ‘various characters’ ‘all based on real people’.

On the page (how would they stage the horse?) Oswald’s poem shows many strengths. It is lit by humour, as a recurring, manic Birdwatcher leaps ‘Off bicycle’. It is invaded - perhaps too briefly - by the real and drowned: ‘Harry Kingscott from Gloucester/ They found my cycle at the Wainlodes’. Simplicity and strangeness sound in the chanted rhythms of her moon:

Banging and banging the jetty

Very hard to define, most close in kind
To the mighty angels of purgatory
Who come solar-powered into darkness
Using no other sails than their shining wings

Bold leaps across tone and rhythm are Oswald’s great glory, but they do admit the odd lame or fey line. The new moon begins, unpromisingly, as ‘a little sleepless smallness’. The delicacy of Oswald’s meditations, with ‘moon-shocked nerves half lit’, is sometimes subverted by the killer’s power of the Severn. But A Sleepwalk remains an intriguing piece. And how did they stage that horse? Do tell me, if you see the drama which has this slender booklet as its base.
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