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This review is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

LANDSCAPES AND EMBLEMS PETER RILEY, Alstonefield (Carcanet) £9.95
PETER RILEY, Aria with Small Lights (West House Books) £3.50
KAREN MAC CORMACK, Implexures (Chax Press/West House Books) £11.95
CHRISTINE STEWART, from `Taxonomy' (West House Books) £4.50
SEAN BONNEY, Poisons, Their Antidotes (West House Books) £4.50

Peter Riley prefaces Alstonefield with excerpted letters to the poet Tony Baker that establish its beginnings and continuation. In the Staffordshire village of Alstonefield, Riley `suddenly had the distinct sensation that it mattered, this place, that its very existence mattered [...] I keep going back [...] I'm making sure it's still there [...] "it" being not exactly Alstonefield but the challenge and serenity it conveys.' Riley's book-length response is not a poem of place but a walking and working through of `the place as an arena [...] where the soul puts on a show'. What this show consists of is, to a significant extent, a performance of what language such a show demands. Riley has argued elsewhere that `what we live `in' has become a shifting and multiplying term'. Roughly one third of the way through, the poem's speaker tells us that

A good thought is itself a sweet song to
which the river is basso continuo though
my own speciality is scordatura: adding to the
difficulty a lateral shift thus tempting
a world register...

`Scordatura', changing tuning for special effect, seems an apt description of Riley's technique throughout Alstonefield. Here's the next stanza:

As a wound lived with does become calm, all the
herbs of the valley gather round it saying
Breathe slower, there are other worlds. The lamb
agrees, and dies into distant sandwiches. Ah!
to die in earnest and ...


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