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This review is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

MOMENTS OF RISK ALICE OSWALD, Woods Etc. (Faber)

Since her publication of Dart, much has been made of Alice Oswald's debt to Ted Hughes, yet his influence in her third collection is less overt than one would like. One yearns for more of the Hughesian pitch and imagery found in 'Head of a Dandelion':

This is the dandelion with its thousand faculties

like an old woman taken by the neck
and shaken to pieces.

This is the dust-flower flitting away.

It's not just the ferocity of association, but the unsentimental reportage that recalls Hughes and yields Oswald her finest moments here. Water, leaves, stones, birds, trees (the woods, etc.), are the stuff of nature and myth, but in many poems here they don't muster the strength for which one hopes. 'Sea Poem' opens with the lovely and provocative line, 'what is water in the eyes of water', but falls short in its ultimate revelation, 'what is the beauty of water / sky is its beauty'. Still, her subdued lines sometimes strike the right note; in Oswald's favour, she is never shrill.

Most interesting are the poems that quietly turn the world on its head, as in 'The Mud-spattered Recollections of a Woman who Lived her Life Backwards':

I'll tell you a tale: one morning one morning I lay
in my uncomfortable six-foot small grave,
I lay sulking about a somewhat too short-lit
life both fruitful ...


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