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This review is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Cover of Selected Poems
Carol RumensNegotiating Borders Jean Bleakney, Selected Poems
Templar Poetry, 2016
£12.99

In the over-crowded, multi-talented, and politically-charged province of literary Northern Island, Jean Bleakney’s three poetry collections, published by Belfast’s Lagan Press between 1999 and 2011, struck true, personal notes of realism, objectivity and humour. Her background in biochemistry and her knowledge of horticulture gave Bleakney a scientific but poetry-friendly lexicon and a metaphorical range neither forbiddingly oblique nor standardised to the expectations of either ethnic ‘tradition’ (or the new non-tradition of the postmodern juniors).This generous Selected Poems is a sturdy reminder that an excitement about reading and a delight in language are a writer’s prerequisites, and all other experience and training, including the attendance of creative-writing workshops, are strictly secondary.  

Various borders were negotiated in Bleakney’s debut collection, The Ripple Tank Experiment, not least the one implicit in the terms ‘woman poet’ and ‘woman scientist’. Bleakney’s speakers may perceive the domestic/professional balancing-act as comic, but not entirely comic. ‘The Physics of a Marriage’, for example, sustains the ripple-tank metaphor with a slightly acid geniality:


Well-matched, they say of us. To me it’s clear
that symmetry was just the half of it.
Same wavelength I suppose. Yes darling, we’re
the ripple tank experiment that worked
and even though the floor got soaked
       the pattern somehow held. We knew it would.
       Those corrugations clinched. But oh the debt
       to synchronicity and amplitude.


The subtlety of rhymes enfolded by enjambment and that cleverly foreshortened fifth line matches the unobtrusive science. As for the central metaphor, ...
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