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

COME ON IN SASKIA HAMILTON, Canal: New and Selected Poems, 1993-2005 (Arc) £8.95

Saskia Hamilton's first UK book gathers selections from her two US collections, As for Dream (2001) and Divide These (2005), with new poems. For a 'selected' it has an unusual coherence. This is partly because the poems seem aware of their place within the book, and talk about it in a pleasingly literal way. The first poem in Section III ushers us into 'the vestibule' where we can think about 'the mind before it enters the house / of tenuous relationship, of starting, / of settling, of keeping still'. The first of the new poems is called 'New Text'. These gestures, like all good hosting, are well-mannered - come on in, take off your coat... But they're also a bit unsettling in their awareness and pleasure in risking mannerism; while they play at putting the reader at ease, they simultaneously convey the likelihood of sudden moves, swerves and bluffs. This is a funny mood to communicate; and Saskia Hamilton is certainly a funny poet, though she doesn't really make any jokes. It might be best illustrated by quoting a whole poem, 'The Labyrinth Suggests a Centre':

The past, however, is full of danger.
Black salt bowl on the table.

The lid, the spoon, a recurrent
undercurrent. The repetitions lead you from day

to day as from rock to rock and time
leads you forward towards

not the equinoctial line, ...


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