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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

NOTHING: OR OURSELVES Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us (Jonathan Cape) £3.95

If poetry is indeed 'news that stays news' then this volume by a young American poet fulfills that definition. 'The country between us' of the title is not so much geographical space (though the poems' locations range from Salvador to Turkey, Serbia to America); it is also the political interface between ideologies and the actual lives of people. To inhabit this interface is too often a dangerous business; this is the 'news' to which most of these poems bear witness. But it is also a dangerous enterprise to write political poetry: one has to avoid the trivialization of ideas into platitudes. Ms Forché's answer is to concentrate not upon ideas but open human vulnerability. In one poem she admonishes a young poet for thrusting himself wilfully into the political arena for the sake of his art: 'It would be good if you could wind up/in prison and so write your prison poems'. She concludes, 'Hikmet did not choose to be Hikmet'.

'Winding up' in prison is, of course, an ironised understatement and in two of the best poems ('The Visitor' and 'Letter from Prague 1968-78') imprisonment is the central image of that vulnerability, human susceptibility to 'the hands of those who erase/what they touch', as she puts it elsewhere. Most of all imprisonment is essentially violence against natural sexuality. The inventory of often sexual horrors ('mice introduced into women', etc) is perhaps a desperate attempt to deliver poetry from the soothing effects of catharsis. The poems are ...

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