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This review is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

Ways of Seeing   lee harwood, The Orchid Boat (Enitharmon) £8.99
john harvey, Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems(smith/doorstop) £9.95
christopher levenson, Night Vision (Quattro Books) US$18.00

Though at first glance Lee Hawood’s new book recalls Frank O’Hara in its relish for the world of immediate presence, this delight is balanced against the undeflectable if unpredictable movements of history, of change.

Mid afternoon         a light breeze
sways the worn blue curtain

A room’s warm containment cannot guarantee protection from what is gathering beyond it. It’s a familiar enough trope – the light within, the dark without, presence against imminence – but handled with such discreet grace that Harwood makes it feel fresh. This is partly because his poetry, though it acknowledges tragic movements in history, as in the poem ‘A Steady Light’ with which the lines quoted above opens, takes what might be called the longest view. Hence the poem ‘Palaeontology’, which ends ‘Here comes Mrs Trilobite, fresh from the shale. / She’ll shake the nonsense out of us.’ We are by now a long way from where the poem begins, with its apparently casual notion of the (con)temporary registered through present participles: ‘On the edge of town the half finished buildings, / a red neon sign flickering in the distance. / You step off into the scrub, a abundant orchard. / The thick summer darkness, crickets whirring.’ (Where I live, by the way, crickets no longer whirr, nor, for years, have they done so.) But the adventitious can in a moment destroy such delight. History, ‘with all its matter of fact’, as another poet put it, intrudes, not merely the geological past but human history, including our own. ...


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