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This review is taken from PN Review 161, Volume 31 Number 3, January - February 2005.

LIFE AND DEATH SITUATIONS HOWARD A. FERGUS, Volcano Verses (Peepal Tree) £7.99

No one knows more than Howard Fergus about life and death situations. His Volcano Verses takes the current temperature of Montserrat society, following the Soufriere eruption of 1997. Despite having been self-published and anthologised for three decades, Fergus was sufficiently unknown to be included in 1995's Caribbean New Voices. Since then, Peepal Tree has brought his Lara Rains (1998) to the attention of the metropolis, but still he remains one of the West Indies' most underrated poets.

This is his second stride to the wicket for Peepal Tree and once again his 'deadly strokes are balm/ for the sugar in our brain'. His assertion that Britain poisoned the Leewards with sugarcane is tempered by the thought that 'we shall be generous in glory/ wielding words Great Britain taught us, /... to bring the mother country into line.' Yet cricket is only a secondary metaphor in the collection, dropping down the batting order in favour of the volcano which is sent in to open the innings.

Volcano verses comprise a third of the book and a more dazzling array of word-shots would be hard to come across in contemporary West Indian poetry. His exiled compatriot E.A. Markham is similarly punning and witty but Fergus is pithy, less conversational, reminiscent more of Edward Baugh in his control of language and form: 'Montserrat nice/still paradise/in spite of the fall/ of the tall mountain /- if you are fixed with wings/ like angels.' With the luxury ...


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