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This review is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

CUNARD'S LINES Poems of Nancy Cunard, edited by John Lucas (Trent Editions) £8.99

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) was a publisher, editor, translator and biographer, as well as a poet. War and injustice motivated much of her activity and, unsurprisingly, form the major themes of her poetry. Wealth and education were undoubtedly enabling, but it could be argued that such privileges make Cunard's humanitarian commitment all the more surprising. Half a century on, her writing feels unsettlingly contemporary in its description of dazed refugees turned away at the frontier. During the Spanish Civil War, Cunard worked as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian, and her eye-witness accounts of the sufferings of the people are amongst the strongest poems here. They do not sentimentalise, avoiding the pseudo-intimacy of much contemporary (twenty-first-century) journalism. 'To Eat Today' is a scathing address to the pilot who has just bombed a Spanish village:

What was in it? Salt, and a half-pint of olive,
Nothing else but the woman, she treasured it terribly,
Oil for the day folks would come, refugees from Levante,
Maybe with greens... one round meal... but you killed her,
Killed four children outside, with the house, and the pregnant cat.
Hail, hand of Rome, you passed - and that is all.

For Cunard, poetry was a way of bearing witness and a call to action. The strength of these poems lies in their authenticity and the unobtrusive respect they show for the people whose tragedies she records. In the example above, Cunard ...


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