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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

ELECTRIC CALLIGRAPHY APRIL BERNARD, Swan Electric (W.W. Norton) $12.95/£9.99
BEN DOWNING, The Calligraphy Shop (Zoo Press) $14.95

Two recent poetic exports from the United States include the first publication by Ben Downing and the third slim volume by April Bernard. To read and review them side by side mixes an unusual but not unpleasant palate. Conjure up the image of a majestic swan padding through a Turkish calligraphy shop to get a sense of how the two collections don't sit together naturally, but how they can serve to place a rather sublime spin on each other.

April Bernard's collection Swan Electric has a challenging quality. Indeed, it takes its title from the last poem, `Coda: Swan Electric' in which the closing lines run:

                                     She beats her hard
wings, opens her appalling mouth
and hisses, `Come and get me.'

The gauntlet laid down, it is up to the reader to map their way through the emotional territory that April Bernard lays bare. It is not an easy journey; the cerebral poems deal with complex subject matter, revealing a dark side that is at once haunting and electrifying.

There is a strong sense of narrative in the four-part collection that is flecked with moody, elemental descriptions of the environment and weather. Fog lingers and `curls as though yanked through a comb'; winds whistle through the pages and across skies that can be torn apart. Amid this atmospheric setting, there are bolt-like epiphanies that bring the haziness into focus. Part I, a sequence of `Dishevelled Sonnets', includes ...


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