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This review is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Draw More Ships peter bland, Remembering England (Shoestring Press) £9
dai george, The Claims Office (Seren Books) £8.99
christine mcneill, First and Last Music (Shoestring Press) £9

The poems in Peter Bland’s Remembering England have a gentle but powerful assurance. They do what the book’s title suggests, focusing on the England the poet knew, or rather, the two Englands: that of his childhood and youth in wartime, and that of his middle age in the 1970s, after his return from sixteen years in New Zealand. There is a sense of ease in the diction and each piece flows, as if in writing Bland returns to long-gone scenes and faces now worn by memory into comfortable havens. He runs down the streets of his hometown (‘1941… Mrs Scafe’s baking scones / in her new council house’), pores over his collection of Victor books (‘Our favourites in grey post-war years / were Roy of the Rovers and The Tough of the Track’) and roams boyishly ‘hunting dangerous crocs / in the countryside between Stoke / and Crewe’. The earlier poems dealing with childhood during the war express the viewpoint of a person too young to know how things should be, and who rather engages with the world as it is. We see the boy in the bomb shelter: ‘“Draw more ships,” Grandma ordered, / keeping us busy between exploding bombs. / So we did, on wood-flecked wartime paper… The best were hung in old photo frames’. The violent backdrop is almost (but not wholly) inconsequential before the affectionate memory of children competing to see who could draw the best and win Grandma’s favour. Not that the collection is without gloom; the image of Death, who ‘made himself known ...

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