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

CHRISTINE EVANS, Selected Poems (Seren) £8.99

Few voices in contemporary British poetry are more distinctive than Gillian Allnutt's. Confident and uncompromising, Allnutt's writing - to quote this collection's cover notes - 'insists on being itself'. Its defining characteristics are a quiet feminism, a rigorous eschewal of falseness and excess, and a preoccupation with spiritual matters. Sojourner, which takes its title from the passage in 1 Chronicles ('For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners ...'), maintains these qualities, but it also bears wit-ness to an increased fragmentation of language, with most poems occupying fewer than ten lines.

The book is divided into five parts, the first of which gathers together portraits of 'stalwart' women. Allnutt responds to paintings of a Pentland Hills shepherdess and writes about her ageing mother, asking 'How is it to be old and looked at woodenly?'. In 'Hester', the subject is compared to 'hardened' holly, 'her knees gnarled', while staving off death. From here, after a small group of poems drawing on childhood memories, including one that remembers the 'dustsheet' security afforded by books in place of an absent father, Allnutt turns to material associated with Christian asceticism, the area, one supposes, most dear to her. She imagines the fitting of a monk's habit, beginning memorably 'For hours, all afternoon, the sea is alone. // Who can help it?' and, elsewhere, describes a lay brother collecting salt water for his abbot's wounded hands. The following poem, 'At the Friary in Alnmouth', is particularly fine:

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