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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

THE SKIN'S SKIN Out of Fashion: An Anthology of Poems, edited by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber) £9.99

'The sonnet,' claims Carol Ann Duffy, 'will always be the little black dress of poetry.' Sonnets do not go out of fashion. Though 'poetry' and 'fashion' are not often found in the same sentence, in this anthology the most 'stylish' of contemporary poets were asked to contribute and to choose a poem from another age or culture, from Sappho to The Gawain Poet. The resonances between the poems are striking.

For Manolo Blahnik, the anthology 'evokes the immediacy and direct relation between the fashion object and the human body'. The poems also explore the fashion object's mediation between the body, the 'self' and the outside world. This relationship can be determining, as in Roger McGough's choice of A.S.J. Tessimond's 'The Man in the Bowler Hat', where the 'hat' hems in the speaker and is a metonym for 'the unnoticeable man'. Or, as any little girl could tell you, clothes are for dressing up and playing roles with, as in Elizabeth Bishop's 'Exchanging Hats'. Though dressing up can end in explosive change, as in Nina Cassian's 'Dance': 'dressed in green, I could / provoke a disaster'.

Clothes are the props and stage management of desire. In Carol Rumens' 'The Scarf Exchange', when 'playing at adultery', scarves are smuggled 'into our marriages'. They become 'the opposite of our bodies'. But shame tags onto desire. In D.H. Lawrence's poem 'In Trouble and Shame', chosen by Carol Rumens, the speaker yearns to 'put off /My shame like shoes in ...


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