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

DRIVING FORCES LIZ NIVEN, Stravaigin (Canongate) £7.99
TRACEY HERD, Dead Redhead (Bloodaxe) £7.95
PETER KNAGGS, Cowboy Hat (Halfacrown) £6.99

Liz Niven's poetry is mature and humane. Her identity is that of a Scot and a woman, but she voices international and egalitarian concerns. The title poem, 'Stravaigin' or 'Wandering' describes with pride how the Scots have gone forth and spread - 'Strang arms reach roon the globe/ sing "Auld Lang Syne"'. At times she writes with a delightful patriotism, which would be deemed politically incorrect for an English writer. Her retort to the Romans for their failed invasion - 'They came, they seen, they went' - implies between the lines a 'V' sign for devolution, which becomes transparent in the poem, 'Exile': 'At least here in Prague/ it wis clear that/ oppressors wir in./ An ye kent fir sure/ when they left'. But beneath her nationalism lies a compassion which crosses political boundaries.

Part One has poems celebrating the Ireland of her grandfather, lamenting the Jewish dead and a young student martyr in Prague, and empathising with Argentinian mothers who lost their sons. In an elegy for the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister she prophesies that: 'All the singing in the world/ will not unite us till,/ divisions between men/ grow thin as paper'. As if in echo, 'Tourists at Auschwitz' opens: 'We'd been telt/ nae birds wid sing'.

Her feminism is another aspect of her enlightened stance. Part Two contains a sequence on Devorgilla, the thirteenth century widow of John Balliol, whom Niven rescues from the shadow of her husband's fame and male historiography. ...


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