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This review is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

STRUGGLING TOWARDS CLARITY? Karen Gershon, My Daughters, My Sisters, Gollancz, £2.40.

Karen Gershon is best known for her poetry of the camps. Of German-Jewish origin, she has been haunted by the fact that while she escaped the Nazis her parents were left behind to die: 'Both my parents died in camps/I was not there to comfort them/I was not there they were alone.' In her latest collection, however, as in her last, she has moved away from the Nazi holocaust to what she describes as 'family love poems'. In a sense the departure is less dramatic than it sounds, since Ms Gershon's peculiarly Jewish sense of family roots was what made her earlier poetry return again and again to the subject of her dead parents. Even here her relations with her children are always defined against those parents: 'All currents come together:/My daughters, sisters, mother,/In me meet each other.' Or again: 'My father was a fortress/My sons are stone,/ I am the river/Flowing between.'

Yet a departure of sorts there has been, and one that brings evidence of Ms Gershon's limitations. Though her much applauded directness and simplicity still pay off in the confessional poems here-'After all the uses/to which I have put my hands/ it is miraculous/that touching you they can/record a new response'-they begin to look like mere technical impoverishment when she turns to epigram and home-truth: 'One never feels as grown-up as one looks', 'Absence is a sort of death', 'A growing girl grows out of everything', etc. Her rhymes are often trite, too easily ...


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