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This review is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Quietly Visionary olivia mccannon, Exactly My Own Length (Carcanet) £9.95

In a year of many strong debut collections Olivia McCannon's Exactly My Own Length has been awarded the 2012 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, in addition to an earlier nomination for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. As its title suggests, this is a book of beautiful exactitude, thoughtful, acute and inventive, interested in intricate harmonic effects, in pinning down the largest-scale moments of all: 'You gave me life / At 1 a.m. / It weighed 6 pounds 11 ounces' ('The Weight of Life'), '... a narrow gap in a smooth rock / Your own length, the fit exact / And soft enough to give up thought for sleep' ('Exactly My Own Length').

Like others of her generation McCannon is an international citizen, a literary translator living in both London and Paris from where she writes the arc of her close family's history - Liverpool, Cairo, Normandy, Kiel - always with a dramatist's sense of scale, apprehending lives simultaneously in their most historic and private manifestations:

Hope went into flowers that outgrew borders
Ambition into the hammering in the shed
Happiness into gaps so small it had to bow its head...
                                                                                      ('No. 3')

Hope, together with the rejection of its inverse, false hope, is a powerful presiding spirit in the book ('Hope Street 1966' stands as a key poem imagining her parents' first meeting), and not least in the marvellous title poem: 'Hope is allowed - while ...


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