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This review is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

FALLING LEAVES RUTH SHARMAN, Birth of the Owl Butterflies (Picador) £6.99
PATRICIA BEER, Autumn (Carcanet) £6.95
WILLIAM STAFFORD, Traveling Through the Dark (Weatherlight Press) £6.00
CHARLES TOMLINSON, Selected Poems (OUP) £11.99

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Ruth Sharman's first collection draws so deeply on themes that we have come to recognise as characteristically 'female' - the life and death of a mother, pregnancy, and flora and fauna (though not always so scientifically exact). Several of the poems chart an iconically feminine terrain - clothes, lipstick, ribbons, bracelets, velvet, curves. However, such talismans have a tendency to become dangerous, even threatening in Sharman's poetry, which is shot through with tightened bodices that asphixiate, and shoes with blades for heels.

Several poems adopt an abrasive or aggressive language that suggests the vocabulary and imagery of a modern, public woman. 'My Good Coat', the opening poem of the collection, tries for a tone which is both sassy and slinky, but ends up being slight. It's a poem which, on first reading, offers the possibility of a clever subtext - you wonder if the featured coat is in fact operating as a metaphorical cover for all sorts of poetic manoeuvres underneath. In the end, however, the superficiality of the garment must be taken as an adequate representation of that of the poem: the reader must settle for the conclusion that there is no metaphoric lining attached, and that the said coat is simply and somewhat disappointingly a coat.

Again in 'Making Jam', the familiarity of the subject-matter cloys. Bearing in mind Maura Dooley's memorable recipe for traditional Women's Poetry in her introduction to Making for Planet Alice - 'Blood, babies, ...


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