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This review is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

Collected tiffany atkinson, Catulla et Al (Bloodaxe) £8.95 allison mcvety,
Miming Happiness (Smith/Doorstop) £8.95

As I began these books, I remembered another meaning of 'collection': the harmonious movement of a horse under an accomplished rider (unlike me, shambling, on a shaggy pony). Poetry, like riding, is overshadowed by the skills of its classical masters. To invite and survive comparison with Catullus requires courage and class. Tiffany Atkinson's enthralling collection displays both.

Fear runs along the reins, and Atkinson's triumph owes much to her boldness. Her first poem ends in defiant modernity: 'overandout'. But her touch can be delicate too, in the half-rhymes which count petals, 'kisses, curses, kisses'. The RSPB will be relieved by her timely substitution for the famous sparrow, doomed pet of Catullus' Lesbia. The life of 'Rufus's dog' is warm with local colour, 'his no-good-boyo head'. His death is an occasion for modern mock-heroics, 'clatter / your million feeding-dishes with a loud / spoon'. Atkinson's jokes, like those of Catullus, are fast, fashionable, and funny. 'Avant- / garde indeed. I've got handbags / with more counter-culture in' ('Poetry Wars').

But there is desperation in Catullus' vicious grace, and 'Catulla' is not merely modish, but moving, as Atkinson blends self-knowledge and ferocious desire in her own swift lines:

how I starved for weeks and wandered
through the streets in borrowed dresses,
bless, aflame for an encounter. Dear

god.

This is beyond imitation: what is called, in a balanced horse, 'self-carriage'. Atkinson leaves 'fairy-lights' for classical purity: 'What ...


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