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This review is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

Cover of Selected Poems
Sue LeighTo leap at the world’s touch
Kathleen Jamie, Selected Poems (Picador) £14.99

In an interview in the Guardian in 2005, the prize-winning poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie commented that her poetry ‘is not about voice – it’s about listening, the art of listening with attention. I don’t just mean with the ear; bringing the quality of attention to the world’. Her recent Selected Poems bears witness to this listening and noticing. The book gathers together the work of thirty years and allows us to follow her development, from her first collection, Black Spiders (that came out in 1982 when she was just twenty), to her latest, The Bonniest Companie published in 2015.

The poems from Black Spiders explore a variety of worlds – from female communities (nuns, women in Jerusalem) to the lives and dreams of circus performers. There is a sense of an unwavering attention to people and things, an interest in faraway places. This continues in the work selected from The Way We Live (1987) which includes extracts from the sequence ‘Karakoram Highway’ (inspired by travels in the mountains of Northern Pakistan) and the marvellous title poem, a hymn to life in all its richness and complexity.

The Autonomous Region (1993), a collaborative project with photographer Sean Mayne Smith, responds to time spent travelling in Tibet. The poems combine Jamie’s own journeys and experiences with those of two historical characters, Princess Wen Cheng and Fa-hsien. The poems are curious and empathetic as they engage with different cultures. Jamie’s native Scots is sometimes used as in ‘Xiahe’ (a Tibetan town now ...

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