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This review is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Cover of Falling Awake
Tara BerginBright Black
Alice Oswald
Falling Awake
‘In Berkshire somewhere 1970
I hid in a laurel bush outside a house,
planted in gravel I think.
I stopped running and just pushed open
its oilskin flaps and settled down
in some kind of waiting room, whose scarred boughs
had clearly been leaning and kneeling there
for a long time. They were bright black.’
(from ‘Aside’)

IN A GUARDIAN interview conducted in 2005, Alice Oswald describes the seven years she spent working as a gardener as the ‘foundation of a different way of perceiving things. Instead of looking at landscape in a baffled, longing way, it was a release when I worked outside to feel that I was using it, part of it. I became critical of any account that was not a working account.’

That last sentence is important, especially in terms of the comparisons that are routinely drawn by critics between Alice Oswald and Ted Hughes. Hughes too wrote from a practical understanding of nature – an understanding that was repeatedly misunderstood by critics – as well as from a desire to represent it truthfully. ‘What excites my imagination’, he so famously said in 1957, ‘is the war between vitality and death, and my poems may be said to celebrate the exploits of the warriors of either side.’ Such statements encouraged critics to label Hughes not just a ‘nature poet’ but also a ‘poet of violence’ and, like Hughes, Alice Oswald’s poetry has two sides also. On the one hand a highly accomplished nature poet in the lyrical sense, she is, on the other ...

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