By Pauline Plummer


"Reading this was a revelatory experience for me in two senses. Firstly, because I have never previously encountered Plummer's work, in spite of her having published several collections and being a stalwart of numerous anthologies. Secondly, because of the expectations engendered in me by the title. Being aware only of the derogatory Anglo-Saxon usage, the blurb on the rear cover and the actual content defied my expectations until I read the titular verse. At this point, all became clear.

"There are many strengths here but the greatest are the characterisations of people, places and events which are achieved with deft touches of descriptive detail that convey a meaning in very few words. This descriptive detail is never allowed to detract from the narrative flow which makes each poem a short story as well, nor does it interfere with the natural sound-scape of the piece.

"The one thing which does, at times, get in the way of the power, is the split into three sections. The first is unnamed whilst the second and third are respectively named 'Menagerie' and 'Ekphrasis'. Both of these sections begin with work which fits the titles but then are followed by others which feel strained to fit. In this reader's opinion, the poems stand much more powerfully when there are no section titles to guide perception. But this is a minor gripe when all else is so perfectly done.

"If observational skill is the poet's greatest tool, then Plummer is a consummate artist who had honed it to perfection. Capturing people and places she has encountered throughout life's journeys, she renders them in delicately pitched words and phrases. And knows how to use humour wisely and appropriately: consider a typical example from The Late Miss P: 'And bills left until they ripened to red.'

"Plummer's empathy with her subjects is also a telling feature of all these works, perhaps best summarised in the closing lines of English Lesson:

Sudan is a huge rectangle
Where there is screaming in the corners.

"I'd like to select a poem from this standout collection, unfair as that might be. One page in my copy is virtually worn away with use, where the book falls open every time: Empty Bed Blues. My eyes are inevitably drawn to the closing couplet:

Now where you slept there's an empty
Shelf on the fridge of my king-sized bed.

"If like me several days ago, you are unaware of the origins of the word 'Bint', there are two options. Look it up in the dictionary, or buy this collection. I believe that the second is by far the most rewarding."

- David Troman, Orbis


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