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This review is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Cover of Emerald
Alastair Llewellyn-SmithAriadne
Ruth Padel, Emerald (Chatto) £10
Ruth Padel’s eleventh collection, Emerald, was conceived, she has written, as an exploration of the role this gemstone has played in history, mining and myth, as magical talisman or tradable commodity; and of green, in its many different shades and associations, including the colour of nature. But the project changed direction, she has explained, when her mother fell ill, and died three weeks after being rushed to hospital. Emerald then became all about leave-taking, dying and her mother’s life. The poems are tender, acutely observed and sometimes funny:

tell me how many men
did your mother
sleep with          really? I’ve always wondered.

    (‘Intermission’)

Each of the thirty poems is self-contained, but, like Ariadne, Padel has given the reader a ball of thread that links the first to the last page. The very first line is ‘This is to do with being lost’ and the last poem, ‘Salon Noir’, which is an exploration of (and meditation on) the eponymous painted chamber in the pre-historic caves of Niaux in the Ariège, ends:

   But the mountains
rising one behind the other
   were herds of green bison
drifting away into the sky.

The bison have escaped from their cavernous walls, now reborn as mountains grazing the sky. Padel is very good at echoing an image or a thought many pages after the first sounding, so that the reader has to backtrack to recover the allusion. Similarly, rhymes are carried from ...


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