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This review is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Cover of Assembly Lines
Rachel MannShaped around Wreckage
Jane Commane, Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe) £9.95
When I grew up in the south Midlands of the 1970s, I spoke with an accent part-yokel, part-Brummie (Radio 4 listeners, think old-school Archers characters). As a teenager, I decided the only wise thing to do was drop it ASAP. If I wanted to get on, I decided I must take on the linguistic tropes and accent of the upper-middle class. Of course, in the past thirty years, such strategies have become somewhat frowned upon. Local accents and dialect are fashionable now, and even younger Royals like to flash a hint of Estuary English.

In poetry, the success of Liz Berry’s Black Country arguably signalled a new shift towards the celebration of unfashionable, ugly English place and the language embedded in it. It is saturated in the dialect and accents of Dudley, Lye and Smethwick and, given how much the English midlands have been mocked, Berry’s achievement was salutary.

Jane Commane’s debut collection arguably relies on Berry’s pioneering spadework. If it is not framed so much in dialect, it is defined by the midlands and specifically a place even less glamorous and more traduced than the Black Country: Coventry and its environs. Indeed, Commane playfully riffs on this in ‘Coventry is’, a list poem which suggests its ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride, / is somewhere to be sent.’ If this opening line relies on off-the-shelf language, Commane’s power is found in barely suppressed anger about what has been lost, not only in human terms, but cultural infrastructure: ‘preferring not to talk, tonight, of the masses buried / at London ...


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