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This review is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

THE PRESENCE OF RHYTHM ALICE OSWALD, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (Oxford University Press) £6.99

It is difficult to temper one's enthusiasm for Alice Oswald's The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile. It is immediately evident that she has an unusually marked feel for the importance of line in a poem. This is in contrast to many contemporary poets who accumulate meaning and effects in their poems by creating verse paragraphs in which run-on and enjambment are popular devices. It is interesting to see that in a recent profile in Poetry Review Oswald seems relatively free of the usual nexus of contacts and contemporary influences. Perhaps she has avoided the route of competence and critical attention through the workshop and creative writing course, instead working alone in cunning and silence. She has cited the influence of Ted Hughes and Gerald Manley Hopkins on her work and described them as 'heroes' in the profile although it must be observed that Oswald displays a rather different sense of humour.

The poem 'Otter Out and In' is the most Hughesian piece where the river is personified in 'her absorbing beauty'. Oswald has revived and extended this particular wellworn poetic strategy so that there is a fruitful, but never confusing, blurring of identity between personifier and personified or perceiver and perceived as in 'Estuary Sonnet' a form which Oswald often uses.

and I will show you nothing - neither high
nor low nor salt nor fresh - only the skill
of tiny creatures like the human eye
to live by water, ...


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