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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

LEAVING THE REST UNSAID Gillian Allnutt, Beginning the Avocado (Virago) £3.50 pb.
Michael Farley, Liminal and Harry Guest, Dealing with the Real World (Smith/Doorstop) £1.25 pb.
Peter Didsbury, The Classical Farm (Bloodaxe) £4.95 pb.
John Hartley Williams, Bright River Yonder (Bloodaxe) £4.95 pb.
Judith Nicholls, Midnight Forest (Faber) £2.95 pb.

The real art of poetry, as Robert Graves so memorably implied, and demonstrated, often lies in leaving the rest unsaid. The most distinguished of these collections, Gillian Allnutt's Beginning the Avocado, is also the most reticent. It is a book in which literary influences show up clearly - Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Irina Ratushinskaya figure in the text, while Denise Levertov and Elaine Feinstein spring to mind as unmentioned mentors - and is none the worse for that. The result has a constantly rewarding sparse confidence, a style which embraces lightly-sketched landscape, historical monologue, and deeply-felt poems of personal loss.

Allnutt's writing might appear prosey and over-explicatory were it not for the shimmers of verbal surprise which enliven and enlighten it. In 'Bright Cambridge Day', for instance, some rather obvious points about the Siberian wind and the impeccable surface of streets and lawns are redeemed by understated linguistic exactness: the way in which 'the instructive eye of the sun' becomes, as time passes, 'quiet and diligent in the many windowed court', or the transformation of 'love that pushes up like the grass in the night' into the fine last line, 'The growth of grasses stalls in the exacting wind.' That is a simple example of a skill which works in more complicated and less easily quotable ways in other poems. In 'Lizzie Siddall: Her Journal (1862)', Allnutt makes a successfully sustained attempt to inhabit the mind of the ironmonger's daughter who eventually married Rossetti. Elsewhere, in the ...


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