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

THE SOUND OF BONE CRACKING LINDA PASTAN, The Last Uncle (Norton) $12.50/ £9.95
CAROLYN FORCHÉ, Blue Hour (Bloodaxe) £7.95
ANNEMARIE AUSTIN, Back from the Moon (Bloodaxe) £7.95
CHRISSIE GITTINS, Armature (Arc) £8.95
ELLEN BRYANT VOIGT, Shadow of Heaven (Norton) $12.00/£8.95

For Linda Pastan, former poet laureate of Maryland, poetry is `short-/circuiting the usual/connections' (`A Glass of Cold Water'). In The Last Uncle, she does this by hitting us with an honesty of vision:

For Jews, the Cossacks are always coming.
Therefore I think the sunspot on my arm
is melanoma. Therefore I celebrate
New Year's Eve by counting
my annual dead.
                                          (`The Cossacks')

Pastan's firmness of touch allows her to trace unusual connections and rework what we think we know:

There is nothing like the sound
of bone cracking
to shift the axis of the earth
                                          (`Ghiaccio')

The Last Uncle consists of a series of wonderfully placed poems. There is little room for the arbitrary and few dud works. Occasionally an image or phrase surfaces too often - as in the echo of J.Alfred Prufrock in `Memory's Guest', `Outside leaves and blossoms/ come and go' and `The Vanity of Names', `Generations / Will come and go.' But these instances of ill-timing are rare; in her work, each poem informs the next. `Ghiaccio', for example, moves seamlessly into `Fibula' where `The muse has broken/ her ankle too'. The last uncle is Herodotus in one poem and then later is seen `pushing off/ in his funereal skiff'.

In Blue Hour, Carolyn Forché's images slip naturally, and almost unnoticed, into her long untrammelled lines:

The moon slips ...


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