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This review is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

BETWEEN COMING AND GOING VONA GROARKE, Other People's Houses (Gallery Press) £12.95 hb, £6.96 pb
CONOR O'CALLAGHAN, Seatown (Gallery Press) £12.95 hb, £6.95 pb

When the new owner of Marilyn Monroe's mansion began renovation, nothing was as it seemed: the loft insulation turned out to be a false cover for a twisted network of wires and bugging devices allegedly laid by the White House, the CIA and the Mafia. The ironic discovery that a private milieu had been the locus for illicit exposure is one which sits well with the theme of Vona Groarke's second collection Other People's Houses, as nearly all of the book's numerous houses, like fairground 'fun-houses', shatter our expectations.

The pivotal poem is 'Domestic Arrangements', which is divided into fourteen sections with two tightly rhyming quatrains apiece. Each part describes a room in an upper-class house. The sections all work in the same way: the intended use or effect of each room is introduced in the first quatrain and then subverted in the second, either by physicality, or by sex, or by the ugliness of the economic exploitation upon which Great Houses were founded. Thus in the conservatory 'future daughters of the house' may 'languish and endure / the promise of orchids', but in reality the glasshouse functions as a hideaway for covert sex: 'The glass obscured by rubber plants / the heat at any hour / supply ideal conditions / to graft or to deflower.' The tightness of the form Groarke employs makes such inversion disturbingly inevitable: in each case there is nowhere to go but down.

'House-rules' is another Janus-faced poem structured around ...


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