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This review is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

NORTHERN LIGHTS (2) LIZ NIVEN, Burning Whins and Other Poems (Luath Press) £8.99
WALTER PERRIE, Caravanserai (Chanticleer Press) £3.00
SEÁN RAFFERTY, Poems, Revue Sketches and Fragments (Etruscan Books) £9.50

The poems in Liz Niven's Burning Whins are genial, conversational, good-spirited pieces, interspersed with charming lino-cuts by Hugh Bryden. A commission by the Highlands and Islands Ltd forms the first part, 'An Turas: The Journey, or The Angel's Share'. The author travels to various outlying locations, to Shetland in the far north, across to Campbeltown in Argyll in the west, and so on. Usually the plane lands in the right place, but in the case of the Campbeltown trip weather prevents scheduled arrival and the poem talks instead about the other passengers' lives as they return to Glasgow Airport. The poet overhears journeys being replanned and contingency measures and she celebrates the little explosions they all see beneath them, Bonfire Night fireworks.

The next sequence, 'Merrick tae Criffel', takes an imaginative leap from 'An Turas', which perhaps dwells too much on airports and aircraft life to reflect the full promise of a Highlands and Islands commission. Here Niven presents a dialogue between the two lowland hills of the title, one character speaking English, one character speaking Scots. The central poem dramatises the foot and mouth slaughter enforcements as they take place across Dumfries and Galloway. Although the idea is inspired and the sequence now joins Nicholas Johnson's Cleave as a significant engagement with this tragedy in poetry, the dialogue is on the worthy side and, as elsewhere in Burning Whins, the poetry is underpowered.

Niven's tone, ...


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