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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

WAY THROUGH THE WOODS PAUL BATCHELOR, The Sinking Road (Bloodaxe) £7.95

Paul Batchelor's debut is a mish-mash of cultures, containing series of 'versions' of Ovid's Tristia and the Irish Buile Suibne, a part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and poems referring to Welsh legend, the Metamorphoses and Ukrainian troubadours. The mixture is unstable: when his Ovid complains of being exiled to 'a spit of land, a fistula / in the oxter of an Empire I once served' ('Tristia', II) the Latinate pathological term and Saxon body-part tug at each other across the line-break, a microcosm for the collection as a whole. The title of 'Blodeuwedd' refers to a woman in the Mabinogion, who was turned into an owl; then the poem begins 'Damned if I'm writing this / for Jenny Houlet' - which is, the notes inform us, a Northumbrian name for a barn-owl. The jump from one cultural zone to another requires of the reader erudition (or at least patience), and a willingness to cross cultural boundaries without explicit comment. A subtle but pervasive Poundianism inheres.

A persistent Northern inflection to his diction acts as a centripetal force; for instance his Suibne 'slept in ditches, / sossed milk from cow-blakes, / far from the warm / and blether of women' ('Suibne Plays Houseboy to the Hag of the Mill'). This drawing-together reveals deeper similarities: Ovid pines for his wife and life before exile; Suibne for his wife Éorann and life before metamorphosis. The collection's title comes from ...

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