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This review is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

SHORT TALES, TALL TALES Stephen Dobyns, Cemetery Nights (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95 pb
W.S. Di Piero, The Restorers (University of Chicago Press) $8.95 pb
Brenda Hillman, Death Tractates (University Press of New England) np pb
G.E. Murray, Walking the Blind Dog (University of Illinois Press) $10.95 pb
Susan Hahn, Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand (University of Chicago Press) np pb

Stephen Dobyns is what one might call necropolitan, showing an easy familiarity with graveyard moeurs, right down to the mating habits of the departed, whose lubricity, lacking lubrication, restores onomatopeia to the verb 'to bang': 'Two of the dead roll on the ground/ banging and rubbing their bodies together … '. The trick, of course is to see that life-in-death equates with death-in-life, yet what one is aware of is not trickery, any more than in the remarkable opening scene of Philip K. Dick's Counter-Clock World, where an old woman calls from her coffin to be born. In both cases what matters is not so much the underlying assumption as the imaginative authority of its realization.

Like Dick, Dobyns is working within popular tradition rather than literary gothic, his poems occupying the same sort of space as the joke, the tall tale, the shaggy dog story (come to think of it the shaggy dog features quite a lot, getting shot as scapedog for an adulterous milkman, being seduced by mistake for the seducer's friend's daughter, urging the master of the house to go into town and get drunk). The poems' openings are essentially premises, the sort that dare you to disbelieve: 'A child is born with a third eye … " 'Two angels meet on a fleecy white cloud', 'Here comes the woman who wears the plastic prick'. There can be only one dynamic after such an entrance, the zig and zag of narrative stretched to its ...


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