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This review is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

SERIOUS DELIGHT KEN SMITH, Wild Root (Bloodaxe) £7.95
IAIN CRICHTON SMITH, The Leaf and The Marble (Carcanet) £6.95
ELIZABETH GARRETT, A Two-Part Invention (Bloodaxe) £6.95
ALFRED BRENDEL, One Finger Too Many (Faber & Faber) £7.99

Ken Smith's new collection Wild Root comes in five sections. The first and longest is 'Eddie's Other Lives', a thematically eclectic selection of mainly short poems, roomy enough to contain a dispersed sequence of monologues by an American woman called Joy whose life is afflicted by misery, and 'The Great Hat Project', an extraordinary comic poem that races through scores of idioms drawn from daily life, history, religion, literature, inserting the hat into the central role: 'My kingdom for a hat. Le hat c'est moi.' The best poems are droll or elegiac, or a subtle mixture of modes. 'Absent' is a beautifully executed garden-at-twilight poem. 'The geography of clouds' skilfully imagines 'the stately kingdoms of the clouds // collapsing into violent republics'. 'For Julia, 1910-1996' and 'Looking for the constant' are commemorative poems that speculate fleetingly about ultimate truth.

In 'Narrow Road, Deep North', a trip to Scotland recalled in haiku stanzas, homecoming and belonging are reined in by ironic self-consciousness:

And again gulls' cries,
tern, bittern, the heart's last blips
on the monitor.

The next two sections, 'Journey Without Maps' and 'Hungarian Quartet', evoke eastern Europe and the Balkans, regions littered with dubious avenues of improvement turning back on themselves: 'Here / we have the best of everything / but you can't have any of it'. The preponderance of similar constructions and of words such as 'everything', 'anywhere', 'nowhere', 'nothing', 'someone', 'anyone', suggests a space where patterns and ...


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