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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

THE ANIMAL I AM RODDY LUMSDEN, The Book of Love (Bloodaxe) £7.95
POLLY CLARK, Kiss (Bloodaxe) £6.95

At once direct and enigmatic, laddish and erudite, Roddy Lumsden's voice eludes simple definition. His 1997 debut collection, Yeah Yeah Yeah, strongly suggested that this vocal indeterminacy was part of a more comprehensive strategy or tendency, and the suggestion is amply confirmed by his striking new collection, The Book of Love.

As with Yeah Yeah Yeah, the uncertainties begin with the volume's title. In the case of the earlier collection, the Beatles' affirmative refrain is also the sneering derisiveness of the self-satisfied stud who, in the title-poem, has usurped the bed-space of a less robust rival; while the beguiling softness of the new title is radically qualified not only by the poem in which the phrase appears but by the pervasive ironies of the volume as a whole.

The ironies themselves are complex, the poems' keen observations genuinely equivocal. In 'Piquant' the speaker, leaning in for a kiss, finds in the smell of sweat and oil on an upper lip - 'two parts ginger to ninety eight parts milk' - a disconcertingly ambiguous commentary on his own action: 'fool for sugar ... mammals one and all ... never again a love like this.' Similar ambiguities inform 'Troilism', a poem whose prurient takes on three-way sex give place, in its concluding stanza, to something altogether more wistful:

Me? I never tried it, though like many

I thought and thought about it
until a small moon rose above a harvest field, ...


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