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This review is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

THE GROUND OF OUR BEING ANDREW MCNEILLIE, In Mortal Memory (Carcanet) £9.95
Here’s a hook to hang life’s beauty on
                                                 Andrew McNeillie, ‘Casting’,

‘This country is my barricade’ writes Andrew McNeillie in his latest volume of poems, In Mortal Memory. What can a country provide barricade from, or against, and could such a defence suffice? In McNeillie’s work, a barricade is also a bridge, pulling a speaker into contact with what he shields himself against. There is much talk of struggle, demarcation, and the liminal, both verbal and physical: ‘a war of words’, ‘a wall, border or boundary’ and ‘gurney and gunnery, too close for sanity’. The thrill of virtuoso artistry is hedged about with a sense of political and personal peril: ‘Why do I think of Germany here? Witness / and conscience’, ‘a balancing of books, the verdict not guilty’, ‘Drink deep but keep your head above water’. Into what dangers might language inveigle us, together and alone? Whom might we find ourselves uncomfortably aligned with, or pitted against? Taking shape from, but also put at risk by, ‘where the mind might go in its disturbances’, McNeillie’s poetry opens onto, and opens itself up to, landscape, identity, and its various listeners. It ‘sings too… Of what? Immortality, / time and tide, and sorrow’, ‘I step into the dark content to be brought to nothing’. The I of McNeillie’s new volume speaks eloquently of the particular bridges between words, places, and persons, of ‘accretion and erosion’, of ‘wilderness and keeping watch’. Partly, that sense of watchful danger is created through ...


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