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This review is taken from PN Review 171, Volume 33 Number 1, September - October 2006.

LIABILITIES OF LIFE GABRIELLE CALVOCORESSI, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart (Persea Books) £9.85

 The American poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s first collection appropriately begins with ‘Pastoral’, a prose poem about hope and community. At the local river, the speaker recalls the time firemen tried to retrieve her dog from the ice as concerned bystanders looked on. At last, ‘there is cheering and the animal is shaking and breathing hard’, and the speaker concludes, ‘We have never wanted anything but this.’ That last word suggests at once the redeemed hope and the sense of community during the dog’s rescue, and it sets forth the book’s interest in ordinary people and their yearning.

 The title poem aptly follows. Each of its ten terceted sections presents a dramatic monologue by a different speaker on Amelia Earhart’s final sighting and disappearance, including her mechanic, her stepson, a local miner, and her husband. Individually each monologue shows how each character’s personality or experience shapes his or her perception of the event, as when the section ‘Diane McGinty, St. Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls’ begins ‘Everybody makes mistakes.’ Yet for all the difference in perspective, the themes of escape and yearning recur, and for many of the characters Earhart becomes a figure not merely of escape but deliverance.

 ‘ Circus Fire, 1944’ uses the same structure of discrete sections surrounding a central event to tell its harrowing true story, but mingles dramatic monologues with third-person accounts, and, as the title suggests, the matter and mood are much weightier than in ‘The Last Time’. Throughout, Calvocoressi’s precision ...


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