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Smith/Doorstep Books The Poetry Business
Bank Street Arts
32-40 Bank Street
S1 2DS
ISBN 978 1 902382 92 0

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A flageolet is a small flute, and the poems in FLAGEOLETS AT THE BAZAAR are like songs played to the accompaniment of a flute. Judith Lal fuses images from Indian mythology with her delicate observations of the English countryside, and especially its bird life.

Given that Lal lives in East Anglia, the scattering of bird references throughout the collection comes as no surprise. Here she selects references from her observations of kingfishers, starlings, woodpeckers, waxwings, a kestrel, finches, goldfinches and a barn owl.

Several poems draw on Lal's Indian heritage: the depiction of partition in India, which "resulted in over a million deaths" is explored in MIDNIGHT IN THE WORLD'S CALL CENTRE:

	putting a spin on politics would be a 
	good one if only there were newspapers
	posted to one thousand and one ripped
	midnights.  1947, the sun is a golden
	pheasant shaking out its feathers, no

	newspapers, but a scream fireworked
	off from neighbouring village
	makes India a house on fire.
Tone varies throughout the collection. Lal's political poetry is powerfully persuasive, THE PARTING OF PLATES:
	An earthquake in Kashmir,
	the partition of plates, the way history is made of
	other peoples tears
Here, she pays homage to the yearning that keeps us fighting against the odds, against failing social and political situations. But other poems hint at a spiritual dimension not readily reconciled with the delicate beauty of the bird poems. East Anglia may be home, but "home" for Lal isn't necessarily place-specific. THE WORLD'S OLDEST PUDDING voices affinity with Indian mythology:
	Birds announce that the
	milkman is coming with
	the sweet cream of
	Krishna's milking.
THE SINGER FROM PAKISTAN, ADDRESSES AN ENGLISH AUDIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME plumbs similar territory. Certainly Lal's sense of cynicism is given full sway, cloaked on the one hand with empathy for the Pakistani singer
	he sings Allah O.
	It does something to his face
and is possessed elsewhere of a thoroughly contemporary voice in RED:
	Sameer Shah the dashing young
	dentist and natural stand in for the
	wayward hero who goes down with a bout
	of something
But exposure and vulnerability is evident too, the question raised: how may we live in this world of society gone mad? We see this expressed in A YEAR ON:
	They claimed never to have got the
	certificate she sent, so were very sorry
	but held her accountable for all of his debts.
Elsewhere Lal's bird poems assume an exquisite tenderness and confidence DUNES OF STARLINGS:
	Starlings that imitate ringtones by day
	take the shape of a whale at 6 o'clock.
	So glad to have it fed
	with cake crumb plankton.
	Lesser spotted is spotted less but
	all day he has purred sharply into
	alders, does not fear himself as small
	or first up this dark tower block,
	flattering the day's chrysalis to open.
Contrast this with Lal's poems SWALLOWTAIL DAY, RED, and DROUGHT, where she insists on free expression as the natural function and innate right of the poet.

An interest in history in the interpretation of history in an effort to make sense of the past is manifest in poems such as MIDNIGHT IN THE WORLD'S CALL CENTRE, THE PARTING OF PLATES and THE SINGER FROM PAKISTAN ADDRESSES AN ENGLISH AUDIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME.

In DEER, the narrative jumps seamlessly to a wild animal where the account of a walk

	upon the concreted
	river with the only other warm
	bloodied creature
contains the beautiful lines
	circles of glass are Indian eyes,
	lashes clean with soot, face like
	a walk with Modigliani's pencil
	and legs not as Sita saw set with
	precious stones but of the most
	elegantly wrapped bone
In HARE, too, Lal captures the essence of the hare as well as his natural attributes:
	In newly saved light the hare jumps
	from the brown box of a field.
	Ears are only the half of it.
There's no doubting the tough emphasis in some of Lal's writing. But it's also a poetry of balance; she doesn't lose sight of the humanity she shares with others.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.