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This review is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.


'The garnets have a whole life in their little red bodies if you listen', writes Frieda Hughes in her second volume of poetry, Stonepicker. Echoing Blake's proverb of Hell; 'A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees'; sight has not come easily.

Stonepicker picks up where Hughes' first collection, 1998's Wooraloo, an eclectic and vital juxtaposition of hospital- and outback-set poems, left off. The horizons of the covers even meet. If many anticipated that in this volume Hughes would finally be judged on her own merits, standing apart from her parents Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes - which she seemed to encourage in her dedication 'To Daddy', her familial subject matter, hospital settings and vocabulary of skirts, tulips and foxes, - those hopes were dashed with the death of her father last year, and the poems that inspired. Once again the Hughes/Plath mythos hangs over the volume. As Tom Paulin said of Birthday Letters, we read it despite, not because of, its subject matter. In the wake of the controversy she won fans for her vivid descriptions of animals and her resolve in adversity. Stonepicker is equally conscious of that adversity.

Beyond any observation of the subtleties of stone, the character of the title uses stones at a basic utility level - as weapons - as reflected in a change from the poetic to the basic in the second verse,

She is scooped out and bow-like,
As ...

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