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This review is taken from PN Review 166, Volume 32 Number 2, November - December 2005.

POSTMODERN PRAYERS? IAN POPLE, An Occasional Lean-to (Arc) £7.95

One short and one long sequence form the meticulously crafted lean-to of this new collection: six tercet-structured Texts by way of a prelude, and the title-sequence, 57 poems gathered under such sub-headings as 'A Genesis' and 'Penitential Psalms'. The theological framework so clearly established in rubric and epigraph is chiefly extra-poetic. Pople allows his poems no doctrinal certainties. He could be read as an eco-critical writer, postmodern in his sense of an un-hierarchical patchwork of 'things being various', though such readings would obviously sell his intentions short.

Texts commemorates the missionary, ecumenicist and bishop, John Vernon Taylor, in a series of meditative travelogues, combining movement and search with resting-points of sharply-seen detail. The unnamed locations rarely seem foreign: exoticism fades when human particulars embody the universal. That 'the island has no cars,/but thirty-eight entrees/ and wasps that settle honied//cakes' is charming detail, but not characteristic. 'It wasn't the dew/ across the grass, or that/ glistening light, it was//simply the month of July/ and a blue van beside/ the shed' is more typical of Pople's vision. The slightly teasing neutral pronoun embodies the transcendental, while the homely nouns seems to protest that they are everything 'it' is about.

The focus jolts a little across these tercets and their stanza-breaks, and the writer's natural syntactical pace is more comfortable in the tanka-like verse-shapes of 'An Occasional Lean-to'. A quotation from Karl Barth heads the sequence: 'The relation between us and God, ...


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