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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

SEARCH FOR A STONE George Mackay Brown, Voyages (Chatto & Windus: The Hogarth Press) £3.95

This new volume of poems marks no striking development in Brown's work but it confirms the ambitious scope of the whole enterprise. The resources of that enterprise are characteristically deployed in 'William and Mareon Clark', a sequence of four poems building through a montage of voices, passages of incremental liturgy, and an elegy in ballad form to celebrate a working lifetime in sixteenth-century Hamnavoe (modern Stromness). Brown seizes on a slight documentary reference, 'on a lawyer's parchment, ghostings', then shapes it to evoke the ethos of the historical moment and to invoke the continuities of Orkney culture. The movement of the four poems is traced in an image that has emerged as central in his work, a movement from 'search for a stone in the kirkyard' to 'I have cut you dove-marks on stone'. And in the volume as a whole - insistently reflexive in its images and episodes of making, shaping, naming - many of the poems pivot on the same metaphoric point: from the condition in which 'the stone's a whisper now' the poet reaches towards 'on a blank stone . . . to have cut such runes', a metaphor with its source in Brown's view of distinctive patterns in which Orkney history was recorded and in which imagination has inscribed its meanings there.

One of his earlier prose poems is an annotation of runes carved by Vikings who wintered in the neolithic burial mound of Maeshowe, and he has written extensively about Orkney in ...


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