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This review is taken from PN Review 207, Volume 39 Number 1, September - October 2012.

Contours and Map neil powell, Proof of Identity (Carcanet) £9.95

In Proof of Identity, Neil Powell picks up seamlessly where he left off eight years ago in A Halfway House, with a tribute to his late father. The identity proven, however, is equally the poet's, the final 'remnant' of his father's identity. Grappling with many identities, not the poet's only but also those of his friends and family, this new collection explores how identity is contingent upon the people, places and things in our lives. Powell establishes a pattern of epistemological uncertainty, shifting from a belief that we can know our loved ones with certainty to an equal assurance that we will never fully know them. The penultimate poem, an elegy to an old friend who disappeared into thin air, is the poet's riposte to the ironic certitude of his title: 'You were a riddle from the day I heard of you.' Such riddles complicate identity, even in the title poem about the poet's father. The weighty trochees that initiate so many of its lines add a rhythmic heft to the burden of patrilinear identity, and a single line, perhaps an echo of Peter Scupham, summarises a life: 'What he kept showed what he was.' The ephemera that officially identified a person ('passports, / Wartime identity card') are the fragments of a sundered fabric that can never be seen whole. Though marked and defined by the 'kaleidoscopic visas' stamped in his passport, the father's true nature remains shrouded by the veil of death and the illusory identity that government ...


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