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This review is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Cover of Selected Poems
Will MacleanIts Own Reward
Collette Bryce, Selected Poems (Picador) £14.99;
Sean Wai Keung, you are mistaken (The Rialto) £6.99
There are some poets whose control is overwhelmingly obvious. Opening her Selected Poems, Collette Bryce takes on the role of field captain barking commands at her ‘line’:

maze through the slating,
dive from sight and down into history, Line,
take flight in the chase of the fences,
leap the streets

If anyone has such authority over their ‘Line’, it is Bryce. This book selects from her four published collections since the start of the millennium, and it stands as a testament to the possibility of sheer poetic skill. Even when playful and wry, there is a magnificent patterning and precision at work in ‘Plot Summary, Scene 4’:

[I would] approach you in a cool embrace and kiss
alternate zones of your face, solemnly, like a delegate
from some forgotten independent state
whose population waits, has staked on this
all hope.

The ‘a’ sound in ‘embrace’ and ‘face’ lurks around the lines and yet is absent from the eye-rhyme of ‘delegate’/’state’ where it is most needed. As if to rub in this failure, ‘state’ is near-rhymed with ‘waits’ and alliterated with ‘staked’ in the next line. Her chamber music is so precise as to be able to harmonise its dissonances as well as consonances.

The tightness of sounds in her poems means that when an inspired phrase comes it has an electric zip to it. Postcards land on her floor ‘like meteorites’ and the ‘refuse ...

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