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

CROSS-POLLINATIONS The Forward Book of Poetry 2005 (Forward) £8.99
The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology, edited by Phyllis Webb (Anansi) $14.95
The New Irish Poets, edited by Selina Guinness (Bloodaxe) £10.95
Acumen 50!, edited by Patricia Oxley, £8

The Forward Book of Poetry 2005 is full of good poems - none better than that by Daljit Nagra, winner of the prize for best single poem. Nagra is the son of Punjabi immigrants, and his poem 'Look We Have Coming to Dover!' is a dazzling first-person plural harangue on behalf of immigrants generally. The title reflects the optimism (and broken English) of many of those immigrants - optimism underlined by an epigram from 'Dover Beach' - 'So various, so beautiful, so new' - but undercut by the poem itself, in which the beach does not just metaphorically figure the 'ebb and flow / Of human misery' (as it does in Matthew Arnold's poem) but bears unflinching witness to it. Here is the poem's thrilled first stanza:

Stowed in the sea to invade
the lash alfresco of a diesel-breeze
ratcheting speed into the tide with brunt
gobfuls of surf phlegmed by cushy,
come-and-go tourists prow'd on the cruisers, lording the waves.

'[I]nvade' is a loaded word in the context and puts us in mind of the rhetorical manœuvres of Tory politicians especially. These, however, are undermined by the fact that, in the final line, the 'come-and-go tourists' become, for a moment, the representatives of the British Empire, implying, perhaps, that the wealth we enjoy and are at pains to protect from 'economic migrants' has come as a result of our own 'invasions'.

That the English language ...


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