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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 272, Volume 49 Number 6, July - August 2023.

Cover of Collected Poems
Chris McCullyAnne Stevenson, Collected Poems (Bloodaxe) £25
Words about Words about Words

This is a scrupulously-prepared and – at over 560 pages, spanning well over twenty works published between 1965 and 2020 – a generous Collected Poems. Notionally, the works assembled here range chronologically from Living in America (1965) – a volume showing the impress of the demotic precision of Elizabeth Bishop – to Completing the Circle (2020). It’s impossible to be accurate about the number of collections included here because Stevenson was an inveterate reviser and set new or reworked pieces within, for example, a previous Collected, which included work written and published from 1955–95.

Often called an ‘Anglo-American poet’, Stevenson stated candidly that if she belonged anywhere, it was to places and countries – a particular kind of America, possibly another kind of England or Wales – which no longer existed: that sense of transience and passage is explored not in sentimental wistfulness but in an often robust, outwardly-directed form of awareness (birds, stone walls, gestures, discarded dresses, formerly smoke-filled pub rooms… Like Hardy, she noticed such things). Assembled here is almost sixty years’ worth of making, inheriting and inhabiting poetry:
And why inhabit, make, inherit poetry?
Oh, it’s the shared comedy of the worst
blessed; the sound leading the hand;
a wordlife running from mind to mind
through the washed rooms of the simple senses;
one of those haunted, undefendable, unpoetic
crosses we have to find.
(from ‘Making Poetry’, 1985)
I should declare an interest. Over forty years ago, when she held a Northern Arts Literary Fellowship, ...

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