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

A Then and a Now a.e. stallings, Olives (TriQuarterly Books) $16.95

It's a useful coincidence that Alicia Elsbeth Stallings's pen-name shares the same initials as Alfred Edward Housman's. Like Housman, she is a classicist, though known better as translator than critic. She is also a poet of great formal gifts, a rhymester and versifier. Yet where Housman buried any bio-graphical detail, Stallings's poems are experiential, calm and reflective, though never quite personal. And it is clear that for Stallings, unlike Housman, poetry is no 'morbid secretion'. Her poems appear regularly in prominent American magazines, Olives is her third collection, and she has published a translation of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura. In 2011, she became both a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow.

'Recitative', about a young couple not able to sleep because of noises at all hours around their flat, is a good place to start. What on first reading is a simple domestic poem has buried in it a literary reference that complicates the meaning:

Our nerves were frayed like ravelled sleeves,
We cherished each our minor griefs
To keep them warm until the night
When it was time again to fight

Those sleeves belong to Macbeth: 'Macbeth does murder sleep! - the innocent sleep, / Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care'. In Stallings, the reference is hyperbole, a sign of her literary sense of humour. Yet to miss that is not a failure. Her poems, which seem to gloss petty events, are rooted in a kind ...


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