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This review is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

I FEEL 'LURVE' FRED D'AGULAR, Bloodlines (Chatto) £12.99

Writing in the Summer 1999 issue of Poetry Review, David Wheatley suggests that Fred D'Aguiar's narrative poem, Bill of Rights, 'doesn't have the stamina to come out as one continuous block of text'. Bloodlines, though, is different, and to such an extent that one begins to suspect that the poet has taken that particular review to heart. For whilst whatever stamina it has is as nothing to the stamina required to actually read it, Bloodlines is absolutely determined to appear 'as one continuous block' - to the detriment, indeed, of pretty much everything else.

The poem is about slavery, or, as the blurb has it, 'about how each generation attempts to shed the slavery of the past.' Set in America at around the time of the Civil War, it tells the story of two sets of lovers: Faith and Christy, a black female slave and the son of a white plantation owner, and Tom and Stella, ex-slaves who now form part of an underground movement helping others to escape the plantations. Their lives are narrated by the unnamed, ancient progeny of Faith and Christy, a 'death-in-life' condemned to immortality until the races come together.

The 'bloodlines' of the title refer not only to the narrator's mixed parentage but also to the poet's mixed literary heritage. The poem is written entirely in ottava rima - the verse-form used by Lord Byron in Don Juan - and D'Aguiar appears to want to effect a simultaneous appropriation and ...

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