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This review is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

A TON OF FEATHERS VERONICA FORREST-THOMSON, Collected Poems (Shearsman Books in association with Allardyce Books) £12.95
ROBERT SHEPPARD, Complete Twentieth Century Blues (Salt Publishing) £19.99
Veronica Forrest-Thomson is something of a fetish in the closed world of Cambridge poetry. The only woman deemed clever enough to appear in Crozier and Longville’s A Various Art, she was - on the evidence of her poetry and criticism - cleverer than most of the male poets who appeared in that anthology, and not only clever but a gifted, affecting poet - sharp to the point of laceration in her human insights, an absorbing if painful writer who had the intellectual wherewithal to produce her own critical synthesis of William Empson and structural linguistics in Poetic Artifice, her posthumously published theory of poetry. Amongst her key influences were William Empson, her husband and mentor Jonathan Culler (whose Structuralist Poetics is a more general account of the ideas in Poetic Artifice), J.H. Prynne, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Apollinaire (calligrammes) and Shakespeare (allusions). Quite a line up of heavyweights for a frail-looking young woman who took her own life at the age of twenty-seven. She wrote in an idiom unmistakably her own: a unique blend of traditional English and avant-garde elements, a poetry that is often, in one way or another, difficult, but nevertheless full of lightness and grace. This compact paperback of her Collected Poems - thirty years after her death - is to be greatly welcomed, and we can only hope it will win her a wider audience.

Forrest-Thomson’s poetic output consisted mainly of three short books, Identi-kit, Language-Games and On the Periphery - dealing respectively with the social construction ...


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