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

Cover of The Beauty
Joey ConnollyMeal, Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty (Bloodaxe) £9.95; Sean Borodale, Human Work (Jonathan Cape) £10; Paul Durcan, The Days of Surprise, (Harvill Secker) $34.99
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH wrote that ‘every author, as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed’. The same, of course, is true of every book, of every poem. Every book is obliged to act as treasure map to the desert island of itself, guiding its readers towards the places it has stored its caches of meaning. These books by Jane Hirshfield, Sean Borodale, and Paul Durcan each struggle in their own way with the task of finding the perfect burial spot for their treasure, and with proposing the best way of digging it up.

In Jane Hirshfield’s book The Beauty, this struggle is characterised by a wavering between poems which aim to be meaningful and those which aim to be significant. That is, around half the poems find their value in high-concept metaphorical play, in which the interplay of careful delicate images explore metaphysical or psychological ideas; they’re meaningful in the sense that they work to provide us with paraphrasable insight into how certain concepts function beyond or alternatively to the meanings usually attributed to them. Other poems, though, function more like zen koans, refusing transferable content in favour of an aromatic sense that the world is irreducible to our ideas about it. The impressive thing about The Beauty is that Hirshfield is able to exploit both modes successfully. Further, she’s able to carry elements of each strategy into the other, so that a feeling ...


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