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

LINGUA FRANCA CHRISTINE WEBB, After Babel (Peterloo Poets) £7.95
A.F. HARROLD, Logic and the Heart: Love Poems 1999-2003 (Two Rivers Press) £8.00
DEBJANI CHATTERJEE, Namaskar: New and Selected Poems (Redbeck Press) £9.95

In her first collection, Christine Webb's subject is communication and how it breaks down. In the opening poem, Eve makes her own paper and ink and sets about writing 'In the / Beginning ...' until 'Women / don't write, he said // And screwed up her bible.' This is where Webb herself erects barriers to communication; too many poems are marred by the Conspiracy of Female Suffering. (Will we never get over our gender?)

A sequence of 'Gospel Truths' is told from the woman's perspective. These are good but very similar to Duffy's work of five years ago. 'Absent: No Good Reason' ought to be heart-breaking but is only infuriating. This is the story of someone who misses school to attend the funeral of a school-friend's baby. Isn't there enough suffering here already without dredging up more by means of such a title?

This is all the more frustrating because Webb can write. When she turns to the dealings of real men and women (particularly her parents), she writes with real warmth. 'Slipping Away' is very moving indeed, and the beauty of detail in 'Journeyman' or 'Deodar Cedar' ('the mistle-thrushes' rusty calls, / the slow decisions of rain') make for vibrant, memorable poems. She needs to trust her own voice and words more.

Logic and the Heart is a gorgeous book; Pip Hall's illustrations complement A.F. Harrold's sensuous, sensitive poems ...


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