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

An Essay on the Poetry of Carol Rumens Anne Stevenson

Two salient features of Carol Rumens's poetry are its intelligence and its compassion. Intelligence has nourished the perceptive quick of her imagination, enabling her to outgrow the sub-Plathian effortfulness which characterized her first book, A Strange Girl in Bright Colours (Quartet Books, 1973). How catching was the inflated indignation of that period!

Christmas. How can it be received?
An exorbitant gift,
it imposes itself upon an ungrateful season.

The multi-stars of snow,
coloured bells, fat candles,
pulse in the black air.

They are delectable fakes . . .
              ('Questions for Advent')

No English-speaking woman beginning to write poetry in the 1960s impressed by the work of Plath and Sexton, could altogether escape that diction of swaggering anguish, mixing college-girl paradox ('exorbitant gift') with punchy colloquialism ('fat candles') until the manner almost became a formula. But already by 1973 Carol Rumens, like Sylvia Plath before her, was moving beyond the poses of exercise-poetry into that language of trembling sensitivity which distinguishes her work from that of cruder-minded political women. The end of the poem just quoted, for instance, becomes a considered, if wistful, criticism, not an attack:

And the pallid, original child, for all his
struggling giftedness,

will also come to a bad end,
leaving last desperate promises,
indecipherable and locked.

An ending no one else would have written. By ...

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