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This review is taken from PN Review 172, Volume 33 Number 2, November - December 2006.

NOT PRINCE HAMLET STEWART CONN, Ghosts at Cockcrow (Bloodaxe) £ 8.95

The ghosts here are not spooks or phantoms, not groaning revenants or spectral harbingers. They are for the most part simple memories or costumed mnemonics calling out 'Adieu, adieu! remember me' just as they fade into a new and forgetful dawn.

Stewart Conn's poetry occupies a world unequally com pounded of some magic and much ordinary humanity. He is not addicted to dis-illusion and does not seek to exorcise, but nor does he reduce experience to mystery and spells. His great predecessor and one-time BBC colleague George Bruce noted in Conn's earlier work a certain tension between the mythological and the quotidian. That small drama can be followed through Stolen Light, his fine selected poems. It hasn't so much ended here as been absorbed into the fabric of each of these lyrics and short sequences. As if afraid that he will forget his lines - the actor dies slowly in all of us - Conn speaks them plainly, aware of his own transience on the worldly stage, aware of the fragility of happiness and the awkward persistence of small embarrassments: a fish-hook in the hand, not so very bravely borne; a prat-fall instead of a moving exit; an eye-swerving glimpse of a man with a strawberry mark in the Basilica.

There are ghosts in the great church as well, 'grey/ and white figures' who 'slip away... unhurried', the two nuns contrasting sharply with the shutterbugging Japanese tourists. The very next poem invokes them again, ...


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