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The Will
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by Dora Beale Polk 

The first thing we notice about The Will is that it is much thicker than the average poetry book. This is because it contains Dora Beale Polk’s collected poems, written over a long period of time, some previously published elsewhere, others unpublished until this point.

As one would expect of such a collection, there is no central theme, though there are certainly themes: nature, relationships, history and so on. Knowing something of the writer’s background (born and brought up in Wales but living in the USA most of her adult life, author of several accomplished novels and non-fiction works), I had certain expectations of her poetry. I expected something perhaps a little old-fashioned.

I expected that the collection would reflect Dora Beale Polk’s life experience. The odd Americanism came as no surprise, and neither did the Hopkins-like lyricism – the Welsh blood coming through, of course: "the / sob of water eroding the / grey cairns, trickling / bog-brown". Humour, as in "Neighborhood", and pathos, as in "This is the Only One", were likewise only to be expected from the author of Something Must Be Done.

Less predictable was the cynical humour of "Thoughts at the Royal Academy". Unquestionably the opinion of an older person, it nevertheless takes a fresh look at the subject. "Art is sheer fiat. / Pure act." This works better than the condemnatory approach of "A Marked Man" and "To the Mediamongers at the Beginning of the Third Millennium".

These poems are not recognisably all by one person. It is evident that they have been written at various times of Mrs Polk’s life and with very varied environmental influences. The arrangement appears fairly random; if there is a structure to it, I believe it is with the intention of creating a puzzle for the reader. (Was this written by a twenty-five-year-old or a seventy-year-old?)

One thing that does run through the collection, though not exactly as a distinctive theme, is the concept of "will": free will, the will to succeed or to create, and of course "will" in the sense the book’s cover tells us. If Dora Beale Polk means this book as her bequest to the literary world, it is not a bad one. I asked a would-be novelist once whether she would die happy if she knew her books would be read by other people one day; I think any writer would have answered as she did. There are enough poems here to keep the reader going for many a year, as I intend to do. I can see myself revisiting this collection twenty years from now, and recognising things in it that I was unable to see the first time round.

Buy it, keep it, and cherish it.

Orlandon Press, 2008
ISBN 978 0 955656 20 0
221pp, paperback
Retail price 9.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher