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

Cover of In Her Shambles
David C. WardDigging Away
Elizabeth Parker, In Her Shambles (Poetry Wales) $9.99;
Ari Banias, Anybody (W.W. Norton) $15.95
Looking up definitions of ‘shambles’ for this review, I find that it usually means ‘wreckage’ or ‘mess’ (an archaic meaning is the killing floor of a butcher’s) but that there is a usage in which it is pridefully applied to gardens whose display is a seemingly artless cascade of surprising beauty. I like the idea of adopting Shambles as a term, like Folly or Ha Ha, for landscape gardening. I suspect Elizabeth Parker would too not least since turned into a verb, ‘shambling’, the term (rhyming with rambling) also means a kind of purposeless or awkward walk or gait. In gardening or poetry, then, ‘shambles’, as demonstrated by Parker, is an oxymoron, a seemingly accidental yet entirely purposeful aesthetic reconstruction of what she encounters. As we know, there is nothing natural about landscape. Rather it’s how we design and arrange it: ‘While he stayed shut, her throat bloomed / long-stemmed flowers / threading their colors through a breeze.’ Or in ‘Dry’ a river is unclogged:

You sleeked my snarls of algae
brought a lush hiss to my throat
brown trout wafting their bodies.

It’s not all blooms and flowage though as nature is as much muck and mire or decay; ‘From Home to the Garden Centre The Forest of Dean’ makes the forest viscous with industrial leavings: ‘a forest still oozing iron, / bedrocks greased with ore.’ Nature is dangerous, with a hint of the butcher shop’s blood and offal:

Birds, shrews, mice
pried from the white portcullis
of the cat’s teeth


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