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This review is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

SCOTOPHILIA ROBERT CRAWFORD, The Tip of My Tongue (Cape) £8
ANGUS CALDER, Colours of Grief (Shoestring) £7.50
HELENA NELSON, Starlight on Water (The Rialto) £7.95

Robert Crawford's A Scottish Assembly (1990) confirmed what the poems appearing for several years in magazines north and south of the border had hinted at: here was a witty voice, as well-informed about and ironically distanced from contemporary consumer products and scientific headlines as it was au fait with hundreds of years of Scottish invention. The poems had a gawky but not wholly embarrassed sensuousness, and as unapologetic a middle-class perspective on things as any poet admitting to be middle-class is likely to offer. If these aspects felt forced, they felt forced in the right way: they were both an honest clearing away of one kind of faux-class, faux-macho posturing in poetry (not always contained to the north) and a driven, exhilarating journey through modernity as heritage and heritage as modernity.

After several books in which more personal themes struggled in amongst poems derived from perhaps a misdirected sense of what academic poetry might be, this collection reads more satisfyingly. Interested in exotic-seeming vocabulary rather than in the possibilities of nuanced syntax, the prosody is winningly naïve, as perhaps the praise form, surely Crawford's favourite genre, demands:

I want to thank each bead of water
In Lake Baikal and polar Lake Vostok.

Thanks, too, to that Zurich Zoo chimp for taking
Her vertical stroll up a rope,

And to stones - strong, geriatric gneiss
In the hip-deep soil of the world.

Whitman is as ...


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