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This review is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

WATER MUSICS ALICE OSWALD, Dart (Faber) £8.99
JANE DRAYCOTT, Tideway (Two Rivers Press) £8.00

Two books of poetry by two women poets, where the focus of imagery and rhythm are the life of and lives upon rivers, prompts thoughts on the ancient elements of fire, earth, air and water and the ascription of earth and water to a feminine principle. Of the two books Dart is by far the more ambitious enterprise and its accomplishment in stretching the limits of poetry through the inclusion of prose, conversation and reportage places it in a line of descent from In Parenthesis, Briggflatts and Mercian Hymns. A more recent kinsman is Kevin Crossley-Holland's Waterslain, especially with regard to a multiplicity of rural voices and a revelling in dictions outside Standard English. Oswald's first collection, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile, prompted comparisons with Hopkins and Hughes. Indeed, in Dart there is the occasional echo of the Blessed Ted: `the eel the eel chewed its way back inside out/through the heron's stomach'.

Oswald's poem follows the Dart from its source in Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor to its merging with the sea. The poem is derived, as Oswald declares in a brief note at the beginning, from recordings she had made of the people who live and work on the Dart. These are obviously heavily edited and shaped to the poet's voice and they are interpolated with lyrical passages, sometimes in free verse and sometimes in more regular stanzas. Occasionally at the side of the verse there are little notes in smaller type which identify who ...


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