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This review is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

Elegant Assurance sandeep parmar, The Marble Orchard (Shearsman Books) £8.95

The poet's safest career plan: begin with a modest effort and then, after acquiring credibility, gradually add louder and more numerous instruments to an orchestra that plays progressively more difficult compositions. Sandeep Parmar's first volume skips over the apprentice stage. It calls on a wide range of rhetorical resources and shows a degree of literary expertise not common even among seasoned poets. But then Parmar has a PhD, has written a dissertation on the unpublished notebooks of Mina Loy, and just last year edited the collected poems of the modernist poet Hope Mirrlees. She is no amateur.

Renewing modernism, and women's modernism, for contemporary poetry is an admirable project. Parmar has nuanced it with perspectives drawn from postcolonial theory, which she can substantiate by mustering first-hand cultural experience. Members of the Sikh professional class, her parents moved first to the UK and acquired citizenship before going to live in the United States, where Parmar spent her childhood. Several poems here are based on family history, including the incisive 'Archive for a Daughter', which recounts her mother's life, in a format normally reserved for research projects. 'Multigravida', a collaged portrait of her grandmother and the latter's children, uses childbirth as a leitmotif, jobbing in gynaecological indexing codes to characterise the several mother figures depicted. Having opened the door on a number of bizarre domestic crises, the poem moves to a marmoreal conclusion that recalls Ecclesiastes or HD:

Tragedy needs no master—it is the grandmother of ...


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