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This review is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

LOOK AT HIM HE'S TALKING TO YOU Cliff Ashby, Lies & Dreams (Carcanet), £2.95.

Cliff Ashby is a Yorkshire Ancient Mariner, fixing people with his eye and relating his nightmare voyage through Harrogate, Dewsbury and a terrible series of tied cottages to the final climactic title sequence where the real world rolls over and reveals its bizarre and inexplicable underside.

In 'The Tied Cottager', Ashby details that part of his life in a series of shuddering anecdotes delivered in a deliberately anti-poetic voice, from 'Langham', to 'Sherborne', and finally to the bludgeoning 'High Canon'. Despite the matter-of-fact language, the sequence hums with implications and resonances of meaning. In 'Langham', for instance, Ashby is not only given the job, he is given the biblical Job, a character who suits the suffering poet very well.

'The Tied Cottager', at twenty-five pages, is too long, but necessarily so: some poems about the longevity of suffering have to be lengthy, or the impact is lost. In the 'Lies and Dreams' sequence, Ashby becomes Killkof, a lost council-house soul, buying a black tie at 'an obsequious tailors', making heartbreaking understatements like 'That year I did/Not find the Spring/Neither was the/Peace of God/Evident,' exploring the problems of Love, Identity and Death, and coming to no firm conclusions. This title sequence contains some of the best and most passionate writing in the collection: the lines are often longer and the cadences less clipped than in 'The Tied Cottager', with lines like 'He lived in a genteel street/Happy in a shabby room/smelling of dust and gas./Baked beans ...


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