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PN Review 275
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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

SOUP TO NUTS LAVINIA GREENLAW, Night Photograph (Faber) £5.99
SIMON ARMITAGE, Book of Matches (Faber) £5.99
STEVE ELLIS, West Pathway (Bloodaxe) £5.95
STEPHEN SMITH, The Fabulous Relatives (Bloodaxe) £5.95

Lavinia Greenlaw's Night Photograph concerns itself broadly with the unnatural, or at least phenomena which depart unsettlingly from a predicated order of things. She is interested in the trespasses of technology upon the human body, scientifically controlled or violently random. Both kinds are vividly present in 'The Man Whose Smile Made Medical History' in which the poet's grandfather, whose upper lip was blasted away in the trenches, is ingeniously restored by experimental plastic surgery. 'The First World War revealed the infinite/possibilities of the human form' is her deliberately cold-blooded verdict. 'Sex, Politics, Religion' are the three subjects Greenlaw remembers being warned not to broach as she cuts the hair of an elderly woman who splutters replies through a neat hole in her throat. In the presence of such a fascinating wound even the most potentially dangerous discourse is neutralized; the fussy delicacy of the folk taboo is cruelly parodied. In 'The Gift of Life' a nineteenth-century doctor fastidiously describes his pioneering insemination of a Quaker's wife, the sample being donated by 'My finest student: Written in the form of a diary entry to convey maximum can-dour, the narrative contradicts a variety of pieties before culminating in the exultant hypocrisy of 'God's will be done:

One misses this aggressive edge elsewhere in Greenlaw's work. Behind its vigorous destructiveness 'The Gift of Life' implicitly affirms ideas about fidelity and nature, allowing us to feel that something is actually worth caring about. Throughout most of Night Photograph a pervasive sense ...


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