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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

THESE THREE TOGETHER MATTHEW FRANCIS, Dragons (Faber) £7.99
CLIVE WILMER, The Falls (Worple)£6.00
CHRISTOPHER MIDDLETON, Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (Enitharmon) £12.50

Matthew Francis is a highly accomplished poet with a fine eye for detail and a neat turn of phrase, and this, his second collection, is no less assured than his first. A quick trawl through the long sequence 'Ocean', for example, almost immediately brings up this elegantly crafted passage:

People who live close to the sea get shrivelled by it.
They cultivate nets, parched ropes and grey splintered wood,
essences of tar, seaweed and bird-droppings,
orange plastic and blistering front doors.

This is the dry land the tide guzzles
that even the shivery rain
can never reconstitute.

The littoral scenery is sharply and often wittily realised - the gulls 'doodled/ in the margin' of the sea 'regurgitating their cries', the 'lugworm casts/ and plazas of sculpted ripples' touched by the early morning light; and as the sequence draws us deeper beneath the waves Francis offers an arresting series of snapshots of a bizarre oceanic underworld.

Yet depth is precisely what is lacking from this and other poems and sequences in the collection. Francis's facility is remarkable, but it keeps him moving gracefully across the surfaces of things, droll, ironic, ultimately undemanding. He specialises in artful variations on a theme, whether within the framework of a single poem (the titlepoem is a formal tour de force in which every line ensures that 'you see them everywhere, dragons') or more expansively, as in 'Frog Chronicle' where ...


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