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This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

SKIN AND SUBSTANCE JENI COUZYN, In the Skin House (Bloodaxe) £5·95Pb
DEBORAH RANDALL, White Eyes, Dark Ages,(Bloodaxe), £5.95 pb
JACKIE KAY; Other Lovers (Bloodaxe) £5.95 pb
RUTH PADEL, Angel (Bloodaxe), £5.95 pb
CAROL RUMENS, Thinking of Skins: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe), £8.95 pb

It isn't often nowadays that you find a collection of poems with an introduction. Usually, readers who want to know more about the poems without actually reading them have to make do with a publisher's blurb, though these are quite fulsome enough for most of us. Jeni Couzyn's In the Skin House has both a blurb and a Foreword. The latter is by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, described as 'the author of a number of books on Sufism, dreamwork, and Jungian psychology', and it's agem: 'Her images speak of the fire and the burning, of the tenderness and the flowering that take us beyond the known world of familiar forms … Jeni's mysticism is neither abstract nor ascetic, but belongs to the school of lovers like Mary Magdalene … She does not deny the body, but embraces it and goes beyond its boundaries.' Unfortunately, nothing in Couzyn's poems evokes quite the sense of wonder one feels when trying to imagine what Mary Magdalene's school of lovers must have been like. They remind me of those Californian greetings cards on which a piece of gnomic wisdom in white pseudo-handwriting is inscribed over a view of a pine forest. I don't know how to tell whether or not such wisdom is fake. The poems are in too much of a hurry to get beyond the body's boundaries; they don't embrace it - or any of the physical world - enough to give the reader any purchase. There is plenty of imagery, but its ...


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