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

ESCAPING THE MONOTONOUS MIND SASHA DUGDALE, Notebook (Carcanet) £7.95
MICHAEL LASKEY, Permission to Breathe (Smith/Doorstop) £6.95
RHIAN SAADAT, Window Dressing for Hermès (Parthian) £7.99
DERYN REES-JONES, Quiver (Seren) £9.99
ANDY BROWN, Hunting the Kinnayas (Stride) £7.50

In the company of his friend Tennyson, William Allingham once offered the opinion that Wordsworth read only his own poetry for years and that, as a consequence, 'His mind became monotonous.' It is a salutary lesson to lesser mortals: read others; get out more.

I had spent a fascinating week in St Petersburg earlier in the year, and so I was keen to know what Sasha Dugdale had made of the country. Notebook gives a clue. Its title derives from J.M.W. Turner, who figures in the last poems, and from Dugdale's own notes of five years in Russia.

It is an excellent first collection. The poems have a stillness and an indelible sadness that is profound - in the excellent 'Airport', for example, or in 'Wide Glass Sky', whose message might stand for a number of portraits in the book:

This is not mine, this world
These feelings have been stolen
From the unfeeling
These sights have been taken
From the unseeing.
This is not mine.

But the truth she retrieves is hers, because it is ours. Dugdale has a strong affinity with her subjects, as in 'Verrachio', where the artist transmutes urchins, who 'poke at shit and scum', into cherubs for the altar.

Her poems work images and moments, but the stillness is not simply of canvas and memory; it is the stillness of loss, created by carefully pared ...


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