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

A SINGING LINE C.K. WILLIAMS, The Singing (Bloodaxe) £7.95
ANN SANSOM, In Praise of Men and Other People (Bloodaxe) £7.95

C.K. Williams has got it going on. `I couldn't come up with a tune', the title track confesses. This is no trivial muse distraction ploy but plain decadent honesty; in `Narcissism' it seizes control, revelling in a nearly-poem of its very own: `...The word alone sizzles like boiling acid, moans like molten lead, but ah my dear, it leaves the lips in such a sweetly murmuring hum.' The lack of tune is irrepressible, as New England frankness and compulsive qualification run away with sprawling stanzas. Some want pages of vast width while others peel away vertically, giving the collection as a whole its necessary dimensions. Drawn in by voice or by temper, once inside we're vulnerable to disappointment, surprise, respite. `A squalid wayside inn, reeking barn-brewed vodka' is a heritage trail to having `less / history than a dog'. `So much crap in my head' runs through poor garbage to an unearned but thoroughly deserved `first sapphire dome of glow' and doves that only work after reading the whole thing. Do so.

It's not easy to pin down the techniques at work here. Williams is a master of the comma, and has the uncanny ability to transform a word like `or' from a nagging spouse into an attractive older ego. `Oh', for instance, 32 clauses into the first of two sentences memorialising impossible friendship with Harold Brodkey, eventually has `and if I spoke to the dead, which I don't, or not often, I might thank him'. Half ...


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