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This review is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

GIFT RAPT MEDBH MCGUCKIAN, Venus and the Rain (Gallery Press) £5.95
PAMELA GILLILAN, All Steel Traveller. New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) £8.95

The tone of Medbh McGuckian's revised and reissued collection might best be described as poetic with a capital P: kisses are not given, they are 'bestowed' and sadness brings about a rather flowery 'Alas'. Moreover, the poems often seem at pains to tell the reader that their author is a poet: 'I feel the swaggering beginnings/Of a new poem flaring up' ('Sabbath Park'). It's best summed up by McGuckian herself when she refers to a 'my poet's attic'. Unfortunately, most of the collection reads like one.

But the problems run deeper and concern McGuckian's use of metaphors and similes which often seem to have little (if any) connection with their subjects; the relationship between them is strained to say the least. For example: 'Light circled each side of the river/Like mouths into which grapes were pressed' ('The Prince of Parallelograms'). I can't see how light could ever be like this. It's worse when there is no clue at all, the metaphor just floating, unanchored. For example, a stanza begins: 'I am the sky of a long day, working/out its twilight' ('Harvest'). Really? Why are you like this? Poems should allow the reader some imaginative elbowroom, of course, and martian metaphors can sometimes startle, but the detachment that frequently occurs here deflects impact and significance. Moreover, this problem leads to the poems' occasions and literal narratives being obscured. The literal is consumed by the figurative.

Perhaps it's all intentional. Certainly the shift from singular (light) to ...


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