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This review is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

OUT OF BED FRANCES CORNFORD, Selected Poems, edited by Jane Dowson with a memoir by Hugh Cornford (Enitharmon) £8.95
ANNA ADAMS, Green Resistance: New Selected Poems (Enitharmon) £7.95
RUTH PITTER, Collected Poems with an introduction by Elizabeth Jennings (Enitharmon) £10.95

Frances Cornford was a woman who could get out of bed in the morning. Possibly the very least of epoch-making feats, but when you lie awake all night and manage to fall asleep only a couple of hours before dawn, the task of getting up with the lark each day can make even Sisyphus look like a bit of a slacker. Sleepless nights and reluctant mornings provide the occasion for poem after poem:

O what wide shore,
What vision of a plain
By the last bird deserted, and last
Will lead me from this labyrinth of
Absolve me from my bone-
  surrounded brain,
In amplitude of night
To ache no more.

Here as in many of these poems, a trick of the rhythm belies the apparent mundanity of language. The tentative flow and then ebb of momentum through both rhyme and rhythm evokes the clearing of a shore by the tide, tantalising the insomniac with its mimicry of sleep's action while reminding her that a night's rest is a mere moment compared to the peace of eternity.

But it wasn't just lack of sleep that Frances Cornford had to contend with of a morning. For her the new day took on the daunting aspect of a clean slate, offering her a perfection which would be shattered by the first mistake or intrusion:


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