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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 Was It for This
Daisy FriedHannah Sullivan, Was It for This (Faber) £12.99
Still Slugging Back the Red

Like her picaresque and dazzling debut Three Poems, Hannah Sullivan’s follow-up comprises three long poem sequences that showcase her virtuoso image-making, rangy scene setting, and casually impeccable ear. Three Poems focused on three cities where Sullivan has lived; Was It for This, also quite urban, concerns itself with homes – buying and selling them, as places of origin and places we leave; pleasurable places that shape us, places we lose; places of constraint, of safety that turns out not to be safe. In verse lines and in prose paragraphs, Sullivan employs prismatic shifts in focus and vantage, but her voice, whatever that is, is unmistakable throughout. Lots of motherhood, some Covid lockdown, lots of wanders into the past, some whiffs of a terrifying present. This time: less youthful ennui, more midlife retrospection. And Sullivan now observes other people’s suffering, especially that of the victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire. On one hand, this deepens things, as the poet considers the ways the personal is – and also isn’t – a way in to other people’s experience. This also risks creating the kinds of problems that artists encounter when writing as witness rather than as survivor. But Sullivan’s solutions – even when imperfect– are interesting and ethical.

The Grenfell Tower disaster began with an electrical fire in a tenant’s refrigerator (‘It would have crumbled under water jets’, writes Sullivan in ‘Tenants’, the book’s first poem) and spread with ferocious speed because of deficient regulation and developer non-compliance with ...

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