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This review is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.


John Burnside's status as one of Britain's most important contemporary poets was secured by the success of his previous Whitbread Poetry Award-winning collection, The Asylum Dance, and The Light Trap, his latest collection, has been greeted with much anticipation. It does not disappoint. The Light Trap is a touching examination of the complexity of human, animal and spiritual life; it contains that rare power and raw energy for which Burnside's work has come to be known.

In each of the three sections, 'Habitat', [...] (Nature) and 'World', Burnside makes familiar images not strange, but simply beautiful. For example, in the two-part sequence 'Taxonomy' that gently probes into the nature of human affection, Burnside takes us through meadows and rain-sodden kale fields, stopping to admire 'the heart-shaped/ or spatulate leaf/ of toadflax, or fern'. It is in the minutiae of nature, then, that the small gestures of affection are traced. This is not to say that Burnside anthropologises nature - the opposite is the case. In 'Fauna', Part II of this sequence, Burnside reminds us that it is the human propensity to value language as a means of ownership that deceives us into believing we are communicating with a species other than our own:

Once we are close enough to give them names
we cannot help but treat them as our own,
these animals...

It is in this same poem that Burnside recalls the myth of Orpheus, the Greek god ...

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