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Hearing Things by Anne Beresford
Review by Herbert Lomas in Ambit
Anne Beresford is the finest woman poet of her generation, to coin a phrase. Such clichés are of course hype and onions. All I can say is that, of the English woman poets known to me, Anne Beresford's the one I like most.
She hints obliquely at spiritual depths and then walks away lightly, as if she hadn't said anything profound. She's a visionary, and a non-visionary poet is any oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, if not an actual moron. 'Hearing Things' is right: something from the subliminal speaks a witty poetry whose riddles are fingers pointing at the moon. There's no inflated mist, or misty afflatus, about her. She writes quietly, and as if chatting to a friend - to an otherworldly presence full of worldly presence. As with St Teresa, who told God, "No wonder you have so few friends", it's the confidentiality of the spirit.
The poems are difficult to quote: they're wholes that creep up on you, little stories, and big question marks, often querying orthodoxies, or rewriting the taken-for-granted. 'Mary reflects':
...Who was there to see
him lay his head against her naked breast?
Perhaps a swallow dipping and diving
towards the night
or a small spider hanging by a thread from her hair,
which brushed his face.
Her montage and transitions are important, and a clause suddenly defamiliarises the familiar world. ...Mixed with soot is the smell of twenty suppers, none of them exciting. Washing still hangs by the fire-escape over the mansion flats. The train at platform four is leaving for Orpington. More people are coming home, the walls are moving imperceptibly nearer. These short poems are longer than long poems: This is a wild garden where plants happen, are content to be left alone. I quote the shortest poem, not the best: Yahweh enjoyed the Big Bang. 'That will keep them guessing,' he said. And vanished into a black hole. The five stanzas of 'Always in Another Country' start - Begin a long way off, always in another country where forgotten places are never brought to light... - and end - ... Just start again, enter the cafe and order coffee. When are you going to stop crying> It's hard to define her simplicity and difficulty: Unusual to have poems in trees? Not really. The birds read them before they settle for the night. They sing them aloud, learn them by heart. At first light every word becomes clear. Her essence is a sort of evanescence. She's subtly allusive, economical and precise. The words are as limpid as a mountain spring, yet you have to think about them. Her poetic occasions choose her, and she's in touch with whatever it is that makes us human and slightly more than human.
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