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This review is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.

OF EARTH AND LIGHT PAULINE STAINER, Crossing the Snowline (Bloodaxe) £8.95

Pauline Stainer is a well recognised senior poet, who has gained much praise and appreciation. Comment on her has been heavily loaded with certain words, especially magic or magical (which she herself uses) but also sacred, spiritual, visionary… words which propose an inexplicable or mysterious version of experience attained by the poem. I don’t see that such terms are either necessary or helpful when what we are taking about all the time is metaphor, which is the basis of her poetry and at which she has developed a considerable skill.

It is a particular kind of metaphor, focused on the earth’s surface in conditions of human light. What I mean by this is that it does not rely on close observation, though knowledge must be involved in the scope of reference, but is principally subjective. It is the excitement itself, the dazed sense of wonder, which is realised in her short tense lines rather than an investigative understanding of phenomena. When she ends a poem -

and on the promontory
above the bruising
open water,
a moon-gazing hare
releasing the light.

there is no analysis. The carefully weighed lines move images around as tokens or symbols, representing an inner sensation - the hare seems to release the light as an indication of the observer’s personal condition, a state of ‘wonder’. Similarly the sea does not bruise anything but is made to feel ‘bruising’ by a subjective perception ...


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