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This review is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Reinventing the Fish Pun caroline bird, The Hat-Stand Union (Carcanet) £9.95

Poet and playwright Caroline Bird has firmly cemented her place as this generation’s master of performative, tongue-in-cheek, non-ivory-tower verse. Here, bad partners, eavesdroppers, and anthropomorphised animals headline vivid poems crowded with personalities, but shaded by loneliness. Famous characters and muses respond to their authors: a fly talks back to John Donne, a speaker plays Nina in a schizophrenic version of Chekhov’s The Seagull (sorry, Chekhov, Bird apologises beneath the title). There is role-play, and then there are blurred roles: androgyny, hybrid species, half-hearted goodbyes. Not even the idyllic grounds of Camelot are safe: there, the gritty and playful intersect in psychologically sinister ways. The king’s experiment leads to Crab-Boy, Lancelot reads poetry in Smoky Bar. In Bird’s irresistible democracy, one needn’t fit a category to have a voice. Her speakers are complex, strong-willed, and pleasingly flawed.

Bird’s fourth collection arrives just a year after she was named one of five Olympic Poets and commissioned to write ‘The Fun Palace’ (included in The Hat-Stand Union, or if you prefer a larger font, on the façade of the Olympic Park in London). As in previous collections, a plethora of idiosyncratic voices respond to surreal stimuli in poems that most closely resemble those by lauded American poet James Tate. ‘I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me’, writes Tate in ‘It Happens Like This’. Tate’s influence can be heard in Bird’s poem ‘How the Wild Horse Stopped Me’ (a clever pun on ‘wild horses couldn’t stop me’) in which a horse with ‘a look, ...


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