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This review is taken from PN Review 229, Volume 42 Number 5, May - June 2016.

Cover of The Bonniest Companie
Sue LeighSquandering No Light
Kathleen Jamie
The Bonniest Companie
Picador, £9.99
In 2014, a year of tremendous energy in Scotland, Kathleen Jamie decided to participate in her own way, as a lyric poet: ‘I wanted to embrace that energy […] I resolved to write a poem a week, following the cycle of the year’. She called the forty-seven poems written over the course of 2014, The Bonniest Companie (the words are borrowed from the Scottish Border ballad ‘Tam Lin’ where the Queen of the Fairies rages against the aristocratic young Janet: ‘She has ta’en awa the bonniest knight / in a’ my companie)’.

The discipline of writing in such a structured way might have produced a collection that is uniform, but it is richly various. Jamie is known for her lyrical, reflective poems and prize-winning collections of essays Findings and Sightlines, which offer a visionary response to the natural world while drawing attention to our fragile relationship with it. There are a number of poems of this kind in the book, many about birds. ‘Migratory I’, for example, describes a dead whooper swan, its wing ‘wind-fit, quartz-bright […] A radiant gate / one could open and slip through’. In the first of two ‘Eyrie’ poems she writes, ‘I was feart we’d lost the falcons’ but ‘here she is! Conjured out of drizzle / and March mist, her yellow claws / a holdfast on the rock’s edge.’

There are, unsurprisingly, strong political undercurrents to the collection. In ‘The Hinds’ –
a poem that recreates the creatures’ agility in its fluid shape – the deer are ‘at their ease, alive / to lands held on ...


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