An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Oversteps Books
Froude Road
South Devon
ISBN 0 9515513 7 X

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A back cover more than usually replete with blurbs has a lot to say about Bishop's technical resource, little about her concerns and, unless the blurbists are writing about previous work, these seem rather overstated anyway (e.g. I find little of the "compassion without sentimentality" in this book which the reviewer in Other poetry observed). Technically, one has to agree that Bishop must rate highly: Barbara Ellis 's review in Tears in the Fence sums it up nicely by referring to her

sharp eye for detail and a keen ear for nuances of tone
this kind of thing as in VARIATIONS OF LIGHT:
	Another day, the sun bright as ever,
	crowds cracking with colour fill St. Ives.
	Loud as turkeys they gobble up the streets.
	The sea lies in the arms of the land...
	I found the print of Bert's boot
	in a splash of gunge by this bed

	and one of Hilda's kirby grips
	was hidden under the dirt in that comer.                        

	They'd a garish taste in carpets.
	Both dead now. Dead and buried.
or in DIG:
	Scraping gently they uncover
	her skull. Feather brush the dry clay,
	expose the detached jaw.

	But the tongue has gone,
	no words, no song, only
	that thrush in the hedge nearby...
And yes, here is a trace of that "compassion," though I have to say that for the most part Bishop's detail is spartan, austere, tending towards the sober if not the sombre; true and suitable contemporary poetry, one might say. If Bishop has an identifiable concern or preoccupation (though I would not go so far as to call it a theme), it is with death and loss — the child Crispin, a quite unsentimental commemoration of Barbara Hepworth, loss of several kinds, partings. But these matters touch the poetry, do not to any depth (it seems to me) inform it to its core. I think I am regretting an absence of feeling, a reluctance to become involved almost (and I have recently noticed this feature in a good deal of new poetry: something to do with the Zeitgeist, maybe. It would scarcely be surprising, given the unstable world we have to live in). There are a number of poems which are "to do with" love, not exactly love poems: though you may find this ending to one such poem, CHANGE OF AIR, sufficient for its purpose. I don't quite:
	You drew me out then, into the backyard.
	A train roared past the end
	of the road, we kissed.
	No  address at the top of this page,
	no signature. The sea is a place for endings,
	the geography of land. For beginnings,
	the geography of water.
Half a century ago, Kingsley Amis celebrated the emotional element of women's poetry in this way:

	...the awful way their poems lay them open
	Just doesn't strike them.
Not any more. Is the ending of the Bishop poem profound, evocative, or simply an evasion? I think it's an evasion.

My final feeling about this book — inevitably an interim feeling — is that its passing concerns (death, loss, love, lost love, what time does to us) aren't significant or pervasive enough to redeem the volume from being a collection of one-offs of experience and observation. Well-written poetry, yes, invariably interesting, but I wished for something more from someone with a capacity to write as well as this.

reviewer: Eddie Wainwright.