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

KEEP UP PAULINE STAINER, The Lady & the Hare: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books) £9.95

The poems that Pauline Stainer has chosen for The Lady & the Hare are taken from her first five collections: The Honeycomb (1989), Sighting the Slave Ship (1992), The Ice-Pilot Speaks (1994), The Wound-dresser's Dream (1996) and Parable Island (1999). Presumably her New & Selected Poems presents what she considers to be her best poetry and new work, but it also seems to be about shaping how she wants to be read.

Often, critics provide the terms of reference by which we engage and come to appreciate a writer. `Crystalline language', `extraordinary visual imagery', `surety of vision', are typical of some of the descriptive terms applied to the work. Yet, Stainer's chosen title, from her poem `The Lady and the Hare', seems to be asking us to rethink our view and to see `how sternly/ the warm hare is folded/ inside her fierce gown.' Her writing may reflect her wide reading. Mythology, Western and Eastern Art, the Christian liturgy, music and geography are only some of her resources and what we might call the civilised and civilising aspect to her poetry. However, there is also a `visceral Muse' at work in Stainer's writing which her title seems to want to highlight. For this is a poetry of wounds. There is a sternness and rapaciousness in the language and recurring imagery. `The Airfield Falcons', `Axe' and `After the bread-queue massacre' are three quite different examples. Yet each, in its different way, explores and braids the beautiful and the ...


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