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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

WRITING LARKS JEREMY OVER, A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese (Carcanet) £6.95
GERALDINE MONKS, Noctivagations (West House Books) £10.95

In a recent essay in The Paper, 'In Memory of the Pterodactyl: the limits of lyric humanism', Drew Milne focuses attention on the way poets from Keats through Eliot to Helen MacDonald have used birds to portray the limits of 'imaginative projection' and 'human song'. Jeremy Over's entertaining and striking debut takes its title from what the Yellowhammer's song is supposed to sound like. The Yellowhammer is known as the 'writing lark' because the scribbled lines on its eggs looks like pen marks; and in some tales the Devil supplies the bird with half a drop of his blood every morning to use as ink. The limits of lyric, larks - at least in the sense of sprees and frolics - and echoes of both a mid-twentieth century absurdism and a Max Jacob-like surrealism that take for granted the Devil's guiding hand in creation are all very much to the fore in many of A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese's thirty-four poems. 'Love Poem 5 a.m.' begins evocatively -

The last grains of the night
sift through the branches above our heads
as we step, on bare feet
through the young larches

but quickly turns into a description of a waking dream about a golf course and 'weary swallows resting on the ground/in small hollows' left by divots. The end of the poem gives prose advice on achieving 'Better control and no divot' but then worries 'That wouldn't ...


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