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

BEFORE AND AFTER SIOBHAN CAMPBELL, Cross-Talk (Seren) £7.99
ELEANOR REES, Eliza and the Bear (Salt) £12.99
DORA MALECH, Shore Ordered Ocean (Waywiser) £8.99
CARRIE JERRELL, After the Revival (Waywiser) £8.99

Many lives – and countries – have a faultline in time, after which nothing remains as before. Siobhán Campbell’s opening poem, ‘When all this is over’, holds an almost animal sense of peace, with dancing rhythm, stanzas brief as breath: ‘I will cross the border/ over and back’; ‘I will lie in my form/ in overgrown fields’. But relief is short. For good reason, this is a hard book to read, as Campbell unsparingly explores the blood and pain of ‘all’ that has come before: Ireland’s rawly fresh history.

Its violence is trapped in intense stories, as of the RUC man who ‘shot the pike, one by one, each in its writhing head’. (Campbell’s final lines are unsparingly strong.) There is special, terrible eloquence in poems which tackle destruction indirectly, as in the description of a man slashing at foxgloves, where lyricism wars with its broken subjects:

Without their beauty pinks and reds […]

while petals were scattered and smattered there
where the ashen stick laid everything bare.

The country of Campbell’s poems is darkened by domestic brutality, accidents – ‘scattering the limbs of the two Brady children’ – and a poverty which sends out children stealing straw for ‘bonamhs’ (piglets). Yet Campbell keeps a sharp sense of speech (‘We’ll not put money on it, mind’), and of the toughness of women (‘Ironing keeps it at bay’). Finally this fine and ferocious book admits glimpses of life beyond ...


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