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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

BORDER LINES ANNE STEVENSON, A Report from the Border (Bloodaxe Books) £7.95 pb

I declare partiality. More than twenty years ago, Anne Stevenson became, almost by accident, one of my first teachers, and has remained one of my greatest. The greatness lives in shrewdness, musicality, laughter - gifts that here, mercifully, refuse to take themselves too seriously, or allow themselves to be taken too seriously. It's a serious and inevitable business, of course, making the fictions we call poems - but that doesn't mean we should write out of a rictus of self-importance or some neatly academic knowingness that has one eye on the critics. I can imagine the sheer relish, for example, with which Anne will have worked on the poem titled `Red Hot Sex', and the delighted compassion, based on the exactness of real-time observation, with which the poem riddles itself out. (It's not, perhaps, quite what you think. It's set in an institution, and begins with the thematically loaded line `Miranda hoists her lips in a grimace'.) I can imagine, too - I can in fact hear - the tactical puzzling and self-criticism that went into the making of `New York Is Crying' - a post-September 11 work whose formal grace saves it, somewhat miraculously, from being a `mere' tribute or a piece of memorable mawkishness. Here is the final stanza, part of a stanzaically incremental structure that is itself - if Anne will forgive this pun, which she won't - a tour de force:

The ghostdust sours and settles with its smell
Of sulphurous ...


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