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

Sisterious Thongs Bimp john hartley-williams, Assault on the Clouds (Shoestring Press) £9

John Hartley-Williams is a prolific poet whose expatriate status and advocacy of the strategies of surrealism, particularly those of OuLiPo, have contributed to the impression that he is an eccentric original. However, Assault on the Clouds takes its place with other collections built around imagined worlds such as Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, Christopher Reid's Katerina Brac and The Air Mines of Mistila of Sylvia Kantaris and Philip Gross. The collection summons up the quasi-Japanese island empire of Arboa, which, like the setting of Hartley-Williams' previous collection, Café des Artistes, is a floating world in more ways than one. A shadowy group of visitors - a painter, a poet, a philosopher, a general, a geisha and the emperor and empress - feature as protagonists in the poems, giving the collection multiple perspectives and a considerable range in register and feeling.

Hartley-Williams can be aesthetic, as in 'Thoughts of the Poet':

Your sentences must curve like arrows across
The sky that is a page. Their flight and fall must thrill

or savage, as in 'Retribution':

The painter's portrait of the General
incinerates to cellar ash.
The General did not like it with a blowtorch.
Then half the painter's face as well.

Words are invented ('He strolls to the ranks of produce / fondling a mollop here, a krumdidge there'), but sometimes the verbal games have serious consequences. In 'The Poet's Tame Jackdaw' the ...


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