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This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of A Scattering and Anniversary
Edmund PrestwichLine Drawing
Christopher Reid, A Scattering and Anniversary (Faber) £10.99
Christopher Reid’s A Scattering, first published in 2009, was a loving but unsentimental tribute to his wife, the actress Lucinda Gane who died in 2005. Anniversary, thirteen pages of poems written ten years later and combined with it here, fittingly completes the story, although none of the new poems seems to me as vividly animated or memorable as the best in A Scattering.

Reid’s writing has a fast-talking, conversational spring and his phrasing leaps between poles of colloquialism, even slang, on the one hand, and literary sophistication on the other. This is ideal for projecting a lively engagement with life, and for capturing Gane’s own quirky vitality. As we see in the poems describing a holiday in Crete after Gane’s cancer diagnosis, it’s also ideal for interlacing such engagement with stabs of recognition of what is to come. It’s a style well fitted to open-eyed, unflinching living with the whole situation that Reid and Gane find themselves in, seizing the good without averting eyes from the bad.

Colloquial immediacy is complemented by an opposite aspect of Reid’s work. In some ways it’s very formal, playing long, complicated sentence constructions against elegantly balanced metrical patterns. This in itself suggests intellectual and emotional control. Formalising fear, loss, grief and love, it respects the public nature of a book, and the reader’s position as an outsider to the poet’s experience. A Scattering as a whole becomes a kind of ceremony, linked by the title poem to an apparent funeral rite of elephants whereby they scatter the bones of ...

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