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This review is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

Cover of Lurex
Declan RyanDenise Riley, Lurex (Picador) £10.99
Denise Riley’s new collection Lurex is at times abrasive, exposed, off-kilter; it seems often to ask – as ‘Air’ does explicitly – ‘what is the hurt in that light?’ There are striking poems which talk about loneliness, but others, too, which use the state of being alone as their setting or their atmosphere; startling, bruising poems, unsentimental but lacerating as we’ve come to expect from Riley, the great poet of a certain sort of syntactical eye contact. ‘One drawback of loneliness: you can notice yourself too much’, she writes in ‘I get through’, but while this sort of close self-scrutiny may well be going on, it’s accompanied by a similarly scrupulous noticing of the world, too. ‘People

habitually came in twos. Came apart so easily, but harshly’. Life is, in these poems, perilous but ongoing, ‘nothing turns ‘gratefully’ to catch the sun’, ‘Yet turn it will’. There’s a certain Beckettian quality to the poems’ focus on the inevitability of the grave (‘dear future corpses’), and their insistence on whistling their way there (‘The humans sound their billions-fold democracy of distress – a dying spillage. / How clear and plain its songs, how hummable’), their mordant wit black all the way through like seaside rock, the ‘two-bit Brit candy’ Riley elsewhere co-opts into use in a tribute to the poet Elizabeth Weed.

‘1948’ is a forceful poem, in fifteen parts, looking at the cruelties and deferred hope of early life for the ‘illegitimate sent off to the infertile’, the songs made from longing, ‘pure wanting, bloodied and radiant’ ...

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