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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

HERE BE DRAGONS FLEUR ADCOCK, Dragon Talk (Bloodaxe) £7.95
IMTIAZ DHARKER, Leaving Fingerprints (Bloodaxe) £8.95
GRACE NICHOLS, Picasso, I Want My Face Back (Bloodaxe) £7.95
GRACE NICHOLS, I Have Crossed An Ocean: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) £9.95
BERNADINE EVARISTO, Lara (Bloodaxe) £8.95

Fleur Adcock opens Dragon Talk with a cynicism, a throwaway acknowledgment that actually pervades the poetry as a whole. She talks of word recognition software as a ‘co-dependant… a precious parasite…echo and tolerant slave’ with all the resentment and capacity to rebel or undermine which is inherent in such terms. There is a suggestion of a hegemony at work within the software: it doesn’t recognise the name ‘Beth’, for example, and replaces it with ‘death’. It also knows ‘diseases’, ‘pharmaceuticals, bronchopneumonia and chloramphenicol’, which suggests Adcock is working alongside ‘a compulsive speller, hypochondriac, virtual dealer’. The irony of composing poetry with voice recognition software should not be lost, and it is probably perversely pleasing to poets everywhere when computer software fails to keep up with human creativity.

The other poems are a chronological examination of self and often the final lines offer a summation or philosophical observation. Sometimes this is poignant, as in ‘Kuatotunu’, where a childhood drawing, ‘a round patch of scribble’, turns out to be ‘more like the world’. The pertinence is acute as if, somehow, we lose our capacity for an impressionistic view of life as we gain knowledge. It’s something Adcock explores but she also welcomes the fact: ‘Life makes a lot more sense when you can spell.’ Throughout the collection she takes sideswipes at contemporary life, technology, so-called progress and the distance between past and present.

Her lexicon is spartan and the poems may sometimes appear weaker and less engaging ...


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