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This review is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

The Long Haul michael symmons roberts, Drysalter (Cape) £12.00

I first came across Michael Symmons Roberts while utterly homesick, browsing an ad hoc collection of reading matter on a mission compound in Nepal. Unpromising circumstances perhaps, except that the state of exile, of being abstracted from home into the confronting and - to my jaded eyes - arbitrary and wasted conditions of Pokhara's recent urban sprawl was secure enough territory for Symmons Roberts. The question of locus - of how and where we find ourselves, environmentally and eschatologically - has been a sustaining urgency of his poetry, at least since that remarkable verse study of Greenham Common, Burning Babylon. In his latest offering, Drysalter, he draws us via a narrowing path that winds through the detritus of the enlightenment project, its presumption and despairing afterlives, its environmental alienation and theological poverty.

If Corpus secured Symmons Roberts's reputation as a master of the sustained sequence, Drysalter finds him straying most concertedly into the abstracted territories of the unacknowledged body and the unhoused self:

Instead, the slow fields, level-crossings,
tight, grey farmsteads hear and miss us,
passing like a single slub of thought

from south to north, slowest synapse ever,
one idea, say, life as journey, fading
even as it bears us, and silence in its wake.
                                                              (from 'Night Train')

'Abstraction is the enemy, wherever it is to be found' - thus, Wendell Berry; and Symmons Roberts's latter-day psalter pushes the point, pushes into a ...


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