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This review is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.

CULTURE CLASH STEPHEN ROMER, Yellow Studio (Carcanet) £9.95

Yellow Studio offers few problems of understanding, but it does use French quotations, allusions, expressions and les mots français quite freely. That said, Romer’s poetry has more in common with the ‘ironic, anecdotal style’ English readers are used to, than with the ‘apparent lack of guile’ and ‘directness of feeling’ of French contemporaries (to use his own distinction in the 2002 anthology, 20th-Century French Poems).

Most memorable, in Yellow Studio, are the poems which deal with erotic, ill-fated moments, poems such as ‘Recidivist’:

Even the turn of your calf
is enough to make me ache.
The way your blue dress rises.

A more brazen example is provided in ‘At the Procope’, a poem with back-and-forth perspectives:

and then she does something amazing,
she rises in the restaurant, and lowers
her jeans in front of the gawping diners

to show me a snatch of Stevens - was it
The Idea of Order? - indelibly tattooed
on her back, just along the pantyline.

There are several amusing things going on here - the implied gaping with the ‘gawping’; the earthy play on ‘snatch’ with the dreamier Stevens; the indecorous disorder of the action coupled with the words of the poem’s title; that enigmatic poem itself and Romer’s ‘variation’; the poetry line and the ‘pantyline’ - and so on.

Generally, there is an attractive pathos in Romer’s romantic ...


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