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This review is taken from PN Review 139, Volume 27 Number 5, May - June 2001.

SHORT-LISTS MAURICE RIORDAN, Floods (Faber) £7.99
ANNE STEVENSON, Granny Scarecrow (Bloodaxe) £7.95

Readers of Maurice Riordan's second collection will have noted the prophetic title. The title-poem, lodged at the end, is a good place to start not because it turns out to be Riordan at his very best but because it goes some way to describe the poet's mode of operation. 'Floods' - something of a long philosophical pastiche, written, we are told, in the manner of the late Stoic school - might have drowned in its own profusion. Yet the piece not only manages to hold its own, thanks in part to its steady delivery, it matches intellectual enquiry with moments of pure and spectacular wonderment. 'Floods' is both ambitious and canny and, ultimately, not without its own stoical assurances. It manages, by way of comparison and example, to sound like a classical tract. Yet, as with 'The Check Up' from Riordan's first collection, it doesn't ignore our own ecological anxieties. The narrator, reasonable and detached, speculates towards the end of the poem on the consequences of climatic imbalance. We learn about - even recognise - a scenario where seasons hardly change, where harvests rot, in which people turn 'to sports and mindless travel; the brain/veers from exhilaration to depression; /and as the female voice deepens, /we drift towards androgyny; /and since women shirk motherhood, /the populace grows old; the urban fox/and then the wolf appear in this the age/of opportunity, when people thrive/on others' needs... ' Suddenly, it's as if we were up against a radical Conservative manifesto.
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