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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

BARE SKILL? Liz Lochhead, Dreaming Frankenstein & Collected Poems (Polygon Books) £2.95

'Confidential rather than strictly confessional' was Alan Bold's recent verdict on Liz Lochhead's verse. It's a fair distinction and an accurate enough characterization of the persona Lochhead has created in performance: cocky, gallus, word-to-the-wise, a close-head gossip more than likely to trot out the same don't-tell-a-soul-but secret further down the road, at the butcher's or in the pub.

More recently, Liz Lochhead's poems have been moving into darker psychic reaches and have turned on more powerfully personal themes: desire, loss, sexual hypocrisy and betrayal. The tone is less robust and comfortable, more self-lacerating and inward. It became tempting to place her in a Scottish branch-line of a well-worn Anglo-American confessional tradition and Alan Bold's stricture is a sensible one, neatly separating technique and content; Lochhead has managed, very adroitly, to combine 'the shrill terminal tone of Sylvia Plath with the snappy knowall manner of the glossy woman's magazine.'

Dreaming Frankenstein & Collected Poems - a new sequence together with the previously published Memo for Spring (1972), Islands (1978), The Grimm Sisters (1982) - offers the best opportunity yet to separate the poems from the Motherwell tones and the undoubted stage presence and to read them in the mass. Sadly, there is little doubt that where Lochhead succeeds, it is within the span of single poems; they can be tinglingly accurate, pungent and very funny. In bulk, though, there is a less happy impression of mere facility, of a sharp verbal intelligence flittering over a wide ...


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