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

BEARING UP ESTHER MORGAN, Beyond Calling Distance (Bloodaxe) £7.95

T.S. Eliot wrote in 'Burnt Norton' that human kind cannot bear very much reality. Esther Morgan, in her first collection of poems, Beyond Calling Distance, challenges that perception. Of the many themes which weave through her poems, facing up to reality is the most insistent of them, lending her poetry a vivid and passionate quality. The subjects of her poems may not always be full of vitality but her writing certainly is.

Morgan frequently uses the natural world as a symbol of reality, as in her opening poem 'The Sea', which begins:

One night the tide went out
and never came back in -
its shoals of moonlight lost
beyond our horizon.

We woke to a desert
a salt-crusted silence.
For weeks the churches were full.
Then they were empty.

The sea became a myth
our thin children don't believe in.
They mock our obsolete knowledge
of trade winds and currents.

As the poem continues the metre becomes increasingly fragmented and inelegant words jar on the ear. The speaker is frail and old; clinging on to a reality that has disappeared and only the arrogant young and the obsolete old inhabit the stagnating world that remains.

Morgan is not a romantic poet, but she uses the language of romantic poetry to convey harsh meanings, contriving to be both sensuous and stark, gentle and shocking. The languorous ...


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