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This review is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

Cover of Smoke that ThundersCover of Soft Mutation
Alison BrackenburyTransparency
EVELINE PYE, Smoke that Thunders (Mariscat) £6.00

PATRICIA TYRRELL, From the Beach a Palm Leaf (SixForty Press) £3.00

NICKY ARSCOTT, Soft Mutation (Rack Press) £5.00

WENDY PRATT, Lapstrake (Flarestack) £4.50

DAVID TAIT, Three Dragon Day (Smith/Doorstop) £5.00

‘This was a lovely place
but my dear
be very careful or Zambia
will be the death of you.’

(Eveline Pye, ‘Welcome’)

A poem can lead transparently to its subject.  Eveline Pye’s subject is Zambia, where she came to work in the copper industry in 1975. Forty years dissolve in a charged present tense, as Pye observes fellow-residents. Her hostess’ servant is ‘a man about fifty’. ‘She calls him boy.

Pye’s editing is as sharp as clipped colonial speech. Her lines are darkened by the shadow of ‘One Party Democracy’, where ‘the President’s happy face nods’ from women’s clothes. Pye does not rage. She reports. An elderly cyclist is killed, carrying ‘a twenty-kilo sack of mealie meal’. His widow ‘sits by the roadside / sucking raw porridge from her bony fingers’.

But Pye’s compassion and humour result in action: ‘none of your stickhands / has any teeth? Well, I’m sure they do / put a lot of sugar in their tea […]’ She demonstrates that the teeth were destroyed by fumes. ‘The management has to pay’ – for false teeth. This is poetry with a rare bite.

Although occasionally Pye over-labours a point, the pamphlet ends with a poem of dignified discretion. The speaker in ‘Leaving Africa’ is also leaving a man. ‘You appear, head shaved in grief’ before ‘the Land Rover comes’. The speaker compares herself to a snake, still united with her lost landscape: ‘I am quietly peeling off years of love’. The intensities of ...
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