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This review is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

THONG-SHOD FAMILIES John A. Scott, St Clair (University of Queensland Press) £9.95
Andrew Taylor, Travelling (University of Queensland Press) £9.95
Lewis Packer, Serpentine Futures (University of Queensland Press) £9.95
Richard Kelly Tipping, Nearer by Far (University of Queensland Press) £9.95
Gig Ryan, The Last Interior (Scripsi)

John A. Scott's last collection, The Quarrel with Ourselves & Confession (see PNR 49), disappointed by its flatness and its pompous use of fictionality, but St Clair shows the poet in his stride, accomplishing what in the earlier book he could only gesture towards. St Clair consists of three narrative sections. The longest, 'Preface', is almost totally in prose and purports to be (mainly) extracts from letters recounting a love quest. 'Preface' strikes me as the least successful section, and often it sounds like this:

This voyage of performance through the black ocean of dance. How she bends her head back towards them, makes a bowl for them: the sounds ridiculous. A bubbling. A porridge coming to the boil. How her face alights with crawling fluid . . .

The central (and shortest) narrative, 'St Clair', is alive with power and impressed me immensely. In nineteen verse passages it examines a psychiatric institution devoted to keeping political dissidents silent, and contains the strongest writing I have seen from Scott to date:

Finchley hadn't slept. Threat is
a chameleon of the brain that has power to change
shape and sense. Once it was the dark itself,
or things that grew from dark to live. The malady
of arrivals. A loom and squeal of obligation.
The young pigs of surprise. Awake! The sound
of single vehicles smeared over early morning.
Finchley watched ...

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