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This review is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN DAVID HARSENT, Legion (Faber, £8.99)

Legion comprises three sequences: the eponymous opening sequence begins with an italicised fragment, 'Despatches', which vaguely establishes a war-zone. The opening sortie is spread out across half a page: 'shape of a man/// broken legs, sit-dragging himself, knuckling the clay,//iron gates beyond the //////not quite the broad bright light of day/ no but well past the dead of night. You couldn't say'. The juxtaposition of fragmented syntax with unignorably strong rhymes and a spoken, recognisably British idiom immediately sets the reader a puzzle: what initially seems like an eavesdropped fragment, a half-quotation, is in fact heavily manipulated. This double effect is typical of the entire collection: poems initially seem to work on a mundane, descriptive level, but as the book proceeds, the reader can re-read each poem quite differently in relation to the book's three-part structure.

The gapped, discontinuous nature of many of the first sequence's poems seems an attempt to mimic the problem of representing absence and war's violence. In this opening sequence, Harsent hovers over the scenes of war like a photographer capturing one or other image of suffering: 'Troopers dead in a trench and a river of rats / Topers dead in a bar and a flood of reflections' begins 'Snapshots (1 )'; 'children stock still in the shadows, / a rush-light behind the grille of the "facility for widows"' ends 'Patrol'; 'The Golden Couple of Ballroom are dancing the alley-ways, / soft-shoeing amid the shrapnel, lost in ...


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