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

A SEPIA PHOTOGRAPH ADAM THORPE, Nine Lessons from the Dark (Jonathan Cape), £8.00

The patient poems in Adam Thorpe's latest collection scrape away at layers of history to reveal an atmosphere of stasis. Themes he has been known to deal with so deftly are turned to again - history, loss, and fragments from the past - but in his fourth collection he delves even deeper. The careful attention Thorpe pays to his subject matter and the precision of his craft has been compared to that of an archaeologist. Indeed, in Nine Lessons from the Dark there is little slippage; each poem is carved out with great care and as a result the poetry feels undiluted, rich in allegory and intensely human.

Assured and composed, the voice remains distant despite the poet dealing with personal snapshots from his own history. When Thorpe turns his dexterous touch to death in `Nerve', however, it is not without a sense of humour. Bedside moments during the final hospitalised days of one of Thorpe's ex-students, Sébastien Houix who is paralysed from the neck down, are recalled fondly but without gravitas or over-sentimentality. As Thorpe recites some Shelley for him, a tiny fly flickers onto Sébastien's face which he cannot wave away - he dreams of lifting his arm to brush it off just as he dreams `of moving/ like the young man...through bars and streets'. The juxtaposition of the two desires is refreshingly honest. There are also charming moments as Sébastien communicates by pointing out capital letters on a square of Perspex, just as one ...


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