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This review is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

Cover of The Long Take
John ChallisThe Inescapable Past
Robin Robertson, The Long Take (Picador), £14.99
In a departure from the folkloric concerns of his recent collections The Wrecking Light and Hill of Doors, Robin Robertson’s new book-length, novelistic poem takes the underside of post-World War II America as its subject. Influenced by film noir, a style of cinema often characterised by its heavy use of chiaroscuro and its pessimistic, anxious tone, The Long Take critiques America’s booming cities through the eyes of Walker, a traumatised D-Day veteran, who goes to LA to escape his past and gradually comes to consider how ‘cities are a kind of war’.

Written in both prose and verse, the poem is fluid and formally loose. Robertson’s attempts to create poetic versions of a range of filmic devices such as jump cuts, flashbacks and dream sequences, lend a distinctively cinematic structure to the narrative. Particularly effective is his ability to generate a physical dimension to the sense of claustrophobia and anxiety felt by Walker:

The city’s gone.
In its place, this gray stone maze, this
locked geometry of shadows, blind and black,
and angles hurt into the sky, symmetries breaking
and snapping back into line.
The green Zs of fire-escapes; wires criss-
crossing what’s left of the light
to a tight mesh.
The buildings close
around a dead-end, then
spring open to the new future: repetition,
back-tracking, error, loss.

Elsewhere, flashbacks triggered by the urban environment cut cinematically to Walker’s memories of war. In these we are reminded of Robertson’s gift for ...

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