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This article is taken from PN Review 46, Volume 12 Number 2, November - December 1985.

Alison Brackenbury Dinah Birch

can tears' heat see enough to write?
See true. It's hard. How sadly and how cold
I see my lit hair tangled in these nights
                       'Dreams of Power'

No woman poet confounds expectations of warmth or gentle consolation more decisively than Alison Brackenbury. Her two collections to date - Dreams of Power (1981) and Breaking Ground (1984) - show an active range of subject and voice that would be hard to match among her contemporaries. Yet this diversity is built on consistency; a hard, uncompromising confrontation with darkness and cold. She is an ambitious poet. Her themes are large and daunting, and her readers are given little distraction from their dizzying scope - no exuberant metaphor, no rich surface of language, never the flattering sense of a shapely game between poet and educated reader. Her poems are direct and strange. They are rarely, however, exotic; she writes of the everyday - work, bicycles, trains, sewing; often of plants, or animals. She is concerned with things we know, believing that the strangeness of the known is a writer's best gift. This is often difficult work, but it is also generous. 'Apple Country', from Breaking Ground, enacts generosity, and here, unusually, Alison Brackenbury considers her poetic nature. Living in Gloucestershire, where orchards grow, she thinks of apples:

I am living, quite unplanned, by apple country.
Worcesters come the earliest: sea-green
With darkest red, even ...

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