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This review is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

QUESTIONING FAITH SALLY PURCELL, Collected Poems (Anvil) £12.95
SELIMA HILL, Portrait of My Lover as a Horse (Bloodaxe) £7.95
MEDBH MCGUCKIAN, The Face of the Earth (Gallery) €10.00

Sally Purcell's Collected Poems comprises her four main collections and a substantial body of hitherto uncollected work. Purcell is atypical of many contemporary female poets; there is nothing outspoken or `clever' about her work. It is, however, extraordinarily erudite. In its insistent, wholly unapologetic introspection it is quite unfashionable. While its signature is an endlessly searching introspection, there is nothing histrionic or solipsistic about these poems. Purcell does not wear her heart upon her sleeve; her interest lies in the mind.

Richly allusive, Purcell is a scholar's poet with an enduring fascination for classical, mediaeval and hermetic themes (particularly the Holy Grail). She relishes the subjectivity of these works and displays her psychological acuity in giving voice to her inspirational ancestors, preferring to speak through them rather than address the reader directly.

A recurring theme is `the luminous abiding city of the mind', a questing vision from which nothing will turn her. Nothing else compares to books and the learning derived from them, Purcell's perception of the Otherworld which exists alongside the mundane leads her to scorn the potential of the latter. In `Cheiromant' she asserts that our everyday lives are `trivia in the eye of Time/our one fate stands eternal/and plain as the bone beneath'. Our one fate? An omnipresent spiritual pessimism results, leavened only in the Uncollected Poems by her Christianity. This lack of interest in the everyday feels less like the consequence of temperament and more of a wilful refusal. In `Nature ...


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