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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

FORMS OF GRACE Elizabeth Jennings, Moments of Grace (Carcanet) £2.95
Elma Mitchell, The Human Cage (Peterloo) £1.95
P. J. Kavanagh, Life Before Death (Chatto) £3.00
James Sutherland-Smith, A Singer from Sabiya (Many Press) £1.50

It would be too much to say that Elizabeth Jennings was ever exactly written off by the critics, but certainly Growing Points was welcomed as evidence of restored vigour and renewed development. Two collections and five years later the rediscovered resources may have lost a little of their power to excite comment, but it's reassuring that in Moments of Grace Elizabeth Jennings continues to write poems that can take their place among her best. As always, the subjects and occasions of her poetry are mediated by a distinctive sensibility-the survivor of many tempests, wounded into alertness, she writes with a consistency of voice which is tribute to the robustness of certain kinds of fragility. Her least gracious moments arise from an occasional willingness to cap reported experience with explicit evaluation: 'You, so gentle, were/Yet adamant in this and rightly so.' Strong sententiousness is not her forte, and the verse is at its flattest when she is venting opinions. The rhythms are enlivened when they embody the poet's characteristic poise between joy and pain, registering the mysterious dimensions of things without sacrificing fidelity to their concrete character. These are the real moments of grace in the collection, and they are many.

In Life Before Death, P. J. Kavanagh appears more alert than ever to the mysterious dimensions of things, but he renders them with a demystifying directness which makes them the more plausible. It's characteristic that his account of an unexpected but indubitable encounter with the love that ...


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