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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

CLARITIES ELIZABETH JENNINGS: Familiar Spirits (Carcanet) £6.95
IAIN CRICHTON-SMITH: Ends and Beginnings (Carcanet) £8.95

Those who confuse lucidity with simplicity will dislike these books. Those who refuse to read poetry that comes from the 'Old Establishment Order' will ignore these books. Both categories of reader will have made a terrible mistake.

To those who love Jennings' work, Familiar Spirits will indeed seem familiar, but this is not the sort of familiarity that breeds contempt. Employing traditional verse-forms with a seeming effortlessness, poems such as 'Camp' show how far she has developed her handling of the line break, a movement away from her earlier, heavily end-stopped work. Compare the following:
 

Last night I saw the savage world
And heard the blood beat up the stair;
The fox's bark, the owl's shrewd pounce,
The crying creatures - all were there,
And men in bed with love and fear.
     ('Song for a Birth or a Death', 1961)

For it's a rule at school that you don't
       sneak
  About your hurts but my
Sister found me. School codes let you
       break
The rules when blood's the bond. I was
       told I
('Camp', 1994)


The latter verse shows a movement away from Jennings' eighteenth-century influences, and despite its retrospective content carries a modernity of shape and tone that characterises this volume. The paradox with her poetry is that despite consistently utilising traditional techniques her work is undeniably that of process and development, a ...


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