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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

A LOVE WITHOUT EROS JENI COUZYN, A Time to be Born, with drawings by Claire Weissman Wilks (Firelizard)

Jeni Couzyn's poems of pregnancy, childbirth and mother-love, reprinted in A Time to be Born, are nearly twenty years old, the age of the grown-up child whose birth they commemorate: but the relationship of the poems to the illustrations by Claire Weissman Wilks is new and defamiliarising. Wilks's pencil pictures have a kind of visceral lyricism, in constant dialogue with the poetry, mediating the dreaming inwardness of the cycle of gestation and birth with a visionary intimacy that is never wholly free of nightmare. Between the impossibly spread legs of the dreamy woman who appears beside Couzyn's preface, crowds a turbulent pile of babies, reminiscent of some Michelangelesque scene of bodies falling into the abyss, concentration camp horror. Wavy drifts of pencil-lines display hair that spreads to mantle the whole body so that the figure seems a cosmos herself, Gaia perhaps, or the ancient emblem of Charity, with her innumerable sucklings. Couzyn focuses the experience of childbirth as a spiritual quest, in which the Grail of pure insight is transiently achieved, for moments, days or weeks, when, as the preface rather sententiously explains, we 'see what life is'. The idea of vision is given body by the illustrations, moulded maternal forms like mountains folded inwards or erupting; fanatically solipsistic faces of mother and child emerge from the blurred bulk of dark shading with sharp clarity. The two are forever caught in a stressful interchange of becoming one or drifting apart. Wilks's mothers have disproportionately large hands and feet; their ...


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