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PN Review 275
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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

REVIEWs
CONTRADICTORY CAMELLIAS
Adrienne Rich, An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-91 (W.W. Norton) £12.95, £5.95 pb
Diane Ackerman, Jaguar of Sweet Laughter (Chapman) £15
Chase Twichell, Perdido (Faber) £5.99 pb
Roberta Spear, The Pilgrim Among Us (University Press of New England) n.p. pb

In being geographical Rich's new collection is historical too. There are, it is true, moments when she confronts what lies beyond or below recorded time, as she did in 'Diving into the Wreck' - for example a lovely evocation of the Pacific in Section VIII of the title sequence: 'dialectical waters rearing I their wild calm constructs, momentary, ancient'. This dialectic synthesizes into death, evoked along the shoreline by a repeated rhetorical structure: 'What of the huge sun slowly defaulting into the clouds / what of the picnic stored in the dunes at high tide … / all picnics are eaten on the grave'. One can detect Whitman here, in that melancholy seaside mood he was prone to, ebbing with the ocean of life, while his other manner, proclaiming the largeness and vitality of the nation and the need for a poetry that will 'enclose old and new', is also evident in a number of places in this opening sequence. While Rich herself announced 'a whole new poetry beginning here', (in 'Transcendental Etude', written in the late 70s), its preoccupations and constituency were, or at least claimed to be separatist rather than enclosing. Indeed in that phase of her career she was at some pains to point out that 'we're not performers, like Liszt' and one certainly wouldn't have expected a bardic stance to mesh with either her approach or her agenda - yet here she is being a performer like Whitman:
 
Loyalties, symbols, murmurs
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