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

STRIPPED STICK Jon Silkin, The Lens-Breakers (Sinclair-Stevenson) £7.95
John Greening, The Tutankhamun Variations (Bloodaxe) £5.95
Phoebe Hesketh, Sundowner (Enitharmon) £6.95

The poems in John Silkin's new collection, 'The Lens-Breakers', have a lot in common with their presiding image, consisting of dazzling fragments with the suggestion of some larger but unobtainable vision. In fact the book's diagnosis of disunity becomes its unifying factor. This is not to say that it is easy to approach the work as a whole; Silkin's super-dense, sensually chaotic language frequently overwhelms the content of his verse and is best taken in short bursts. He is at his most effective when working below the liminal threshold, juxtaposing images rather than thinking outright. Thus we find complex propositions about the indissolubility of life and death conveyed by sleight of phrase; 'ash sugars the cat', 'dusty plums, echoing the tides salt'. In a more extended passage Silkin deftly manages the sexual and political overtones of the death plunge of Blathnaid, who betrayed her husband with the legendary Irish hero Cuchulainn, only to be snatched off a cliff in the suicidal embrace of his loyal druid. A doomed trinity of Druid, Lady and unborn child
       

               … lift,
the breakers, the bashed green turtle
   rocks,
the mottled treacherous blood splintering
in algae. White warmth and red hair
tangle with daylight,
the light in curls, flesh straight as a
   stripped stick
is white.
                         ('Famine')


Because, however, all the initiative is on the linguistic micro-level, the poems jerk awkwardly between more weighty abstractions. Ideas ...


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