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

PASSIONATE THINKING ANNE STEVENSON, The Collected Poems 1955-1995 (Oxford University Press) £11.99

Collected poems ask to be taken as a summary and a statement. But in truth they are often less of a verbal destination than, as here, a pause at an intersection of voices. This volume includes a generous span of published work, including all Stevenson's major collections together with a section of occasional poems, but after reading the poems in Four and a Half Dancing Men (1993) - the penultimate section of this volume - one has the sense of a vibrant intelligence allied with a rhythmic dexterity, neither of which in the remotest sense suggest that the poet has
 

…grown small
inside my house of words,
empty and hard,
pebble rattling in a shell
                               ('Black Hole')


There is no hard exhaustion here. The poem concludes as follows (notice too the beautifully ambiguous loading of the word 'sure'):
 

…Piles
of words, sure, to show
where I was. But nothing true
about me left, child.


It's precisely the idea of 'nothing true about me' - or anyone or anything else -that distinguishes the quality of Stevenson's poetic thinking from her first volume, Living in America (1965), to the latest work represented her (1995). Poem after poem explores the glitter of illusions, the ache of becoming, the necessities and responsibilities of fiction-making when 'nothing true' is left, or when what little is left can't be imaginatively ...


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