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

LEVITATING A GOLDEN RING PAUL HYLAND, The Art of the Impossible: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004 (Bloodaxe) £9.95

There is a delightful contradiction at the heart of this important collection. True in substance and in tone to its northern roots, Paul Hyland's poetry is largely about the getting and making of things: mining and smelting ores, leaching out useful stuff from ground-dirt and human waste, digging, incising and fashioning, getting a living from a mapped landscape that often chooses to hide its raw materiality under innocently pastoral names: Carlin How, Oakdale, Hengistbury, Heptonstall. And yet the keynote piece of the collection and its title images reflect Hyland's 'other' - actually, the same - career as a professional magician.

The author photograph has him levitating a gold ring, while the cover shows the Great Peters, whose trick was a more brutal form of suspension, diving off a trapeze with a rope round his neck. (His secret never failed him, but his rope eventually did, as Hyland describes in the prose poem 'Memo on the Art of the Impossible'.) Illusion plays an important role in these poems, whether that of the false medium Daniel Dunglas Home, who fooled Elizabeth Barrett Browning but not her husband, in 'The Concertina in its Cage', the smoke-and-mirrors mythologies of the Great Beast Aleister Crowley, or the unsettling habit of thirteen-year-old Lucie Duff Gordon, later the author of Letters from Egypt, of coming down to tea with a snake hidden up her sleeve.

Hyland, though, rarely relies on poetic sleight-of-hand or distracting business. These are lean, muscular ...


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