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This review is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

THOUGHT POTATOES LEONTIA FLYNN, These Days (Cape) £8.00
KATHRYN GRAY, The Never-Never (Seren) £7.99
MATTHEW HOLLIS, Ground Water (Bloodaxe) £7.95
CAROLA LUTHER, Walking the Animals (Carcanet) £6.95
JACOB POLLEY, The Brink (Picador) £7.99

The volumes here come under the umbrella of the most recent Forward Prize for a first collection, part of the supposed democratisation of poetry, with, it seems, prizes or at least shortlists for all. Yet recent sales figures suggest that the book-buying public would not find the proposition that good poets are rare and usually dead contentious. The real interest of some first volumes - many fewer than are published - usually emerges only with hindsight which allows readers to discern retrospectively the beginnings of something individual and distinctive. What first collections typically offer readers is not something new but the recycling of what poststructuralists call 'the already written'. In particular such volumes yield a goodly crop of Thought Potatoes, verse where Ted Hughes's poem-as-fox merges with Seamus Heaney's 'Digging', and contain many instances of local 'poetic effects' which are overworked, too insistent on advertising their status as poetry. The nudges of onomatopoeia , line and word spacing used to enact (too literally) movement, enjambment over the 'gap//between' stanzas as well as lines (Gray), and even the twee claim that the word 'bed' looks like a bed (Flynn) - leave readers with bruised ribs. Meanwhile, of course, language plays its own games, always ready to catch out the ambitious but inattentive.

Chancer, dancer, answer, romancer, even - appositely per-haps - necromancer... : Matthew Hollis's claim that 'nothing rhymes with cancer' does not inspire confidence. Of course Hollis is working in some figurative way and does not let ...


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