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This review is taken from PN Review 266, Volume 48 Number 6, July - August 2022.

Cover of Link: Poet and World
Kathryn MarisVona Groarke, Link: Poet and World (Gallery Press) £12.50
In a moment of ontological despair, while walking along cliffs near Duino Castle, Rilke heard a voice say, ‘Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?’ I have heard my own version of that voice while writing a poem, minus the religious fervor. It’s the voice that asks, ‘Who will ‘hear’ this poem?’ or even, ‘Who will care?’ (The ‘who’ is a figure of speech, as in ‘probably five people will read this poem’; but it’s also a literal ‘who’, as in ‘who specifically will pass judgment?’). It is the voice of lyric doubt.

If I’ve placed a banana peel under Rilke’s impassioned lines to make a crude point, it’s because I want to make a second crude point. When I upend the hyper-lyricism of Rilke’s earnest and spiritual cry for help, I also upend the so-called sincerity of Rilke’s poem.

These two ideas – lyric doubt and sincerity – are central to Vona Groarke’s eighth poetry collection. Link: Poet and World examines the relationship between the lyric I and the Other, using a celestial body called ‘World’ (in contrast to Rilke’s unspeaking angels) as mediator.

World lodges himself in the poet’s house during the lockdown. He is paternal, mischievous and old-school – a cross between a tough Film Noir protagonist (he addresses the poet with the affectionate pet name ‘Irish’) and a toff who dons a claret-coloured smoking jacket and perfectly pleated trousers. He has a touch of the gangster too: his garish ring has a red stone that draws blood. That World comes across as a fantasy composite of twentieth-century stock male screen ...

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