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Monthly Carcanet Books

This review is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

RECOVERY AND DISCOVERY Andrew Motion, The Pleasure Steamers (Carcanet) £2

Andrew Motion's first collection is described as exploring "the theme of voluntary exile . . . in various forms and locations". "Voluntary" may puzzle at first, since the largest poem in the book, "Inland", records a forced exile: inhabitants of a seventeenth-century coastal village are driven to higher ground and thence further inland. Yet their attachment to home, expressed through the consciousness of an unnamed villager (who resembles Motion himself as he emerges from the rest of the book), involves a voluntary choice if not of exile, at least of risk. The location most fully and lovingly described in The Pleasure Steamers is fenland, where earth is metamorphosed into and out of water, and what is felt as home undermines human security and identity even as it is, precariously, contained by human will. The mutations of this terrain are more grandly described than the more obvious safety of the new village, where images of physical dryness and hardness are ciphers for alienation and social estrangement:


Eddon is crossing the street, pushing through
heavy outlines of light
-look how the air shrinks him at once,
restoring its right


to this place. Now murmuring heads turn
behind walls,
hearing his stick tap down to the strangers' house,
his thin call,
and his sacks bumped on their step.


And this is but one stage towards an absolute loss travelled in the last poem of ...


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