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This review is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

Facts and Verdicts anne compton, Alongside (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) Can$14.95
wendy cope, Family Values (Faber and Faber) £7.99

In keeping with Anne Compton’s assertion that ‘Nothing, while you wake or sleep, is separate from poetry’ (in a recent interview conducted for the League of Canadian Poets: http://robmclennan.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/six-questions-with-anne-compton-2014.html), the poems and prose-poems in her fourth collection, Alongside, provoke and stimulate thinking about where the boundaries between experience, observation, perception, expression, and communication might lie.

One of the characteristics of the collection is its positing of facts and verdicts alongside poetic writing. A proliferation of abstract statements and rhetorical questions gives many of the poems an occlusive feel. ‘If you knew the end would you ever begin? / Of two people, one must be after – living / by praxis’; ‘How is it you can miss what you still have?’; ‘The future has a frame on it. / Its long-looked-for contents stand a ways off’; ‘What’s more perverse than the paradoxical dressing / of the dead?’; ‘The library’s a building without mirrors, or all mirror’; ‘A memory you come on by mistake: Is it best not to mention it?’. The blurb states that ‘Every poem in the book is a conversation, with other writers, with lovers, with books, and an Island past’, yet the certainty of the poetic voice gives the impression above all of a speaker in conversation with itself, already sure of the way things are.

Compton’s use of paraphrase and reference sometimes creates the sense of a false start, forcing the poetry to wait for its entrance and then to exist alongside the (generally philosophical) assertions it is intended to evidence. The opening to ‘Seeing Things’ is a classic example: ...


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