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This review is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

TRAVELLERS CHARLES TOMLINSON, Cracks in the Universe (Carcanet) £7.95
DEREK MAHON, Selected Poems (Penguin) £8.99

I first opened Charles Tomlinson's new collection, Cracks in the Universe, whilst browsing in the bookshop. I happened on 'La Rochelle' and was struck forcibly - yet again - with the pleasure a perfectly realised poem provides.

Tomlinson is a master of the patient observation which modulates into thought, and the new book has all his characteristic graces: endless curiosity about place and time, meticulous observation, heightened sense impressions, lyrical accomplishment, dexterity with line and rhythm. For all the acknowledged American influence (Moore, Stevens, Pound and Williams), Tomlinson's voice is essentially a travel-seasoned English one.

He is a poet celebrated for his sense of place (though time and, particularly, time of day are equally pertinent). So it is no surprise that Cracks in the Universe takes us to America, France and Spain, to Gloucestershire and even further 'home', to the poet's childhood and beyond. Characteristically, he is dealing with those moments of lucidity of vision that emerge from the flux of experience, to refresh our appreciation of the world about us.

Time and again, when reading poets of Tomlinson's calibre, one is struck by their kinship with painters, in their extreme sensitivity to light. In the poem 'La Rochelle', for example, Tomlinson writes of the once salt-rich city's façades:

And yet this light of spring can still retrieve
Their saline sharpness, as another evening
Ferries out the sun beyond a ...


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