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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.


Jizzen is old Scots for 'childbed'. Fittingly, Kathleen Jamie's new volume is full of transitions, of crossings over. Two lovers row across a styx-like loch, full of 'deadheads, ticking nuclear hulls' and are delivered not to the underworld but to the dry shore, where they will part and have children 'to women and men we had yet to meet'. 'The Graduates' move from one class to another, their degrees acting as sails. 'Forget it' records the generational movement of a Scottish family from tenement to multistory to 'first / foreign / holiday', while 'Suitcases' and 'Hackit' speak of immigrant journeys from Scotland to Canada.

Like childbirth, none of these journeys, however necessary and valuable or joyously undertaken, is without loss. The lovers, stepping out to their future, have lost the silent harmony they shared - the moment 'the loch mouthed "boat"'. Ways of life disappear in the collective amnesia which seeks to bury the slums. Individuals are wholly crushed in immigration - 'the wife by the cabin door / dead, and another sent for'. The graduates' children are 'bright, monoglot, bairns' - they have lost the language of their forbears.

Most movingly of all, Jamie recounts the tides of gain and loss involved in child-bearing itself. The mother in 'Ultrasound' commits herself to the 'heap of nappies / carried from the automatic / in a red plastic bucket' as well as 'the first / wild-sweet weeks of your life'. Seeing a child's heart fluttering on ...

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