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This review is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

Cover of City of Departures
Peter DavidsonHauntings
Helen Tookey, City of Departures (Carcanet) £9.99
Helen Tookey has chosen a wholly apt image for the cover of this, her second collection from Carcanet: the mid-twentieth-century painter Algernon Newton’s disquietingly motionless image of the Surrey canal at Camberwell. Small Georgian houses with dark windows, a lighted streetlamp, reflections, early evening clouds, empty air, no people:
Canals have always seen too much.
The blinded windows, the black
thin trees – they swallow everything
whole, show you precisely
what they have taken.

This rich collection is pervaded by stillness, sadness, and disquiet and is much preoccupied with the poetic potential of twentieth-century painting. As well as a perfect evocation of the uncanniness of Newton’s depopulated cityscapes, there are haunting considerations of the sparse twilight rooms and rückenfiguren of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, and a sequence of poems whose sheer strangeness in dislocation of diction and object would seem to owe much to the Surrealists of the mid-century.

This second section of the book presents a series of disconnected voices reporting weird events and inexplicable transformations. There are visits to curious abandoned places which have once had a certain grandeur and are now in a state of menaced, very slow, metamorphosis. While remaining as elusive as they are beautiful, these verses seem to give a voice to the women depicted in the dream-pictures of surrealist painters: Leonora Carrington, Paul Delvaux, Leonor Fini. ‘She brings you to the ponds, where the people are lying under the water. They are women, children, men – whole families.’ Or
[…] the drop ...

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