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This review is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

PLACE AND PLACELESSNESS IAN MCDONALD, Between Silence and Silence (Peepal Tree) £7.99

In metropolitan circles, West Indian poetry is perceived largely in terms of Walcott and Brathwaite, the work of writers at universities and that of economic exiles now resident in former colonial centres. Yet the stuff of WI literature is still produced at home, in the silence wrought by the influence of the excolonial canon, but also in the silences that lie between these exiled voices. Ian McDonald's Between Silence and Silence is a fine example of one such work, denying the placelessness, which has become the badge of twenty-first-century West Indians; disavowing the central figure of migrancy forced upon West Indians by the post-colonial critic. Having moved out from the inarticulacy of the colonised space, McDonald has given up `writing in the same continuum of Lowell, Roethke ... Plath' as Dennis Lee says, instead `striving to hear what happened in words ... as you let them surface in your own mute and native land.' Indeed, in his ironic narrator mode, McDonald warns us: `God save you, should you cross the path/of Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath.'

It was Thomas Merton, monk and mystic, who proposed that `words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being', leading us `no longer [to] trust entirely in language to contain reality'. But in the title poem McDonald has transcribed and augmented the words of empire such that

Shadows pass, empires are cast down.
Friend, it is past the ...


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