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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

SIGNIFICANT DIVERSIONS ALAN RIACH, Homecoming: New Poems 2001–2009 (Luath Press) £8.99

Alan Riach can be wayward in his connections and impulsive in the way he links people and places. There’s a restlessness and such a desire to embrace everything that when it looks as if we are on familiar territory, he’s off again as a new idea occurs. The collection starts in New Zealand and, with significant diversions, ends in springtime Scotland:

That tentative squirrel, nervously crossing the road,
The fragrance of wild garlic in the air,
For thirty seconds, then, that unpredicted burst of hail.

It’s the unpredictability that’s attractive, the sense of wonder that’s round the next bend. And the resulting surprise should not be confused with the jottings of a middle-aged gap year or a traveller who is hoping some place or another will reveal its secrets or do for him what he cannot do for himself. For at the centre is a clear head and a keen eye, someone who knows who he is and is secure and confident enough to bring random places and humanities together so they do not impinge on each other, but rather carry a sense of union and belonging; in China, the Great Wall is:

making us think of those
who built it, brick by brick, stone by stone,
then built it and rebuilt it once again
and died beneath it, bones in the earth
hard below the skeletal trees
by the broken rocks and ...


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