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


The first and most assured strength of Fiona Sampson's new book is that it is unlike any book of poems published in Britain in recent years: it is both a verse novel and a book-length poem and an assembly of lyric and narrative poems, and is not quite any of these. Haunted on occasions by the spectral chains of Jorie Graham and the minimalism of Celan, it is a masterpiece of construction. Meticulously European in tone, it is, perhaps, a single poem divided into seven cantos which miraculously knit together into the weft of a vision. It tells the story of a doomed love affair and uses the affair as a means of probing wider questions. It evokes the pain of the miles that open between the two protagonists and yet has them breathe so hotly on each other's necks you can feel the heat coming off the page. Above all, The Distance Between Us is a triumph of original language which refuses to succumb to the sort of lumpen contextual freight that sinks so many collections. It creates a new language for the ether. It is the latest manifestation of the love poem: thwarted, frustrated, full of sexual ache but finally transcendent.

The narrative moves in and out of sight since it is largely concerned with the verities that keep love in the world or else trans - figure it. The book is both an exploration of distance and perhaps an ...

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