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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

JOHN SEWELL, Bursting the Clouds (Cape) £8.00
GEORGE SZIRTES, Portrait of my Father in an English Landscape (Oxford) £7.99
GWYNETH LEWIS, Zero Gravity (Bloodaxe) £6.95

The Canadian poet Anne Carson makes her debut in this country with the volume Glass and God, from Jonathan Cape. The book's long, discursive first section, 'The Glass Essay', deftly weaves its various themes into a misleadingly limpid and guileless whole. The speaker of this poem visits her ageing mother following the break-up of a love affair, and the poem arises from her ensuing meditation on relationships with her parents, a vanished lover (called, intriguingly, 'Law'), a psychoanalyst named Dr Haw, and, most improbably, Emily Brontë. Carson's sophisticated irony and dead-pan humour save this poem from mere introspection and eccentricity. The result is startlingly original, witty, and often moving. Carson's narrative technique is adaptable enough to admit surprising ironic inflections, as when the bald statement 'When Law left I felt so bad I thought I would die' is followed directly by a flat 'This is not uncommon.' Carson's juxtaposition of personal statements with cold medical detail, psychobabble and literary criticism echoes on a linguistic level the poem's drama of exposure and recovery. The success of this method is visible in the speaker's description of a visit to her father:

He suffers from a kind of dementia
characterized by two sorts of pathological change
first recorded in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer.
First, the presence in cerebral tissue
of a spherical formation known as plaque,
consisting mainly of degenerating brain cells.
Second, neurofibrillary snarlings
in the cerebral cortex and in the ...

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