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This review is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

Cover of Deformations
Declan RyanDeformations, Sasha Dugdale (Carcanet) £12.99
There are several layered worlds being constructed in Sasha Dugdale’s latest collection, Deformations, its competing voices and stories all jostling for an attention they’re usually denied. The abiding mood has to do with innocence, how vulnerable it is to exploitation, and the dark power it can afford to bad actors. Deformations is framed by two sequences, mythmaking (or un-making) in their impulse, the first ventriloquising and recasting the artist and illustrator Eric Gill, the second rendering Odysseus as ‘Pitysad’. Both male leads are tricky, troublesome, – ‘problematic’, perhaps, in the current euphemistic parlance. Gill sexually abused his daughter, among other crimes, while the Pitysad we are presented lies, cheats and deceives on his interminable way home to Penelope, the moral centre of the poem, the voice of reason and humanity. This book is full of exceptional writing, on the small and grand scale, bristling with perfectly observed analogies, quiet, affecting music, subtly symbol-laden unpacking of difficult feeling. It opens with a breathtakingly unsettling poem, ‘Girl and Hare’; on first-read, only an undercurrent of unease peeks through but, on re-reading, in the light of what is to follow, the red-lit and permeable line between child and creature: ‘Hare had a narrow breast like hers, rosed with fur, and little childish shoulders / but forearms like a strong man’s’ takes on a far darker hue. There’s something Nabokovian about Dugdale’s ability to stare down unspeakable things in aesthetic terms throughout, to render the profoundly unpalatable in language which acts as a slow release alarm, none more so than in ...

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