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The Holding Ground

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by Angela Morton

The choice of 33 poems as the number for inclusion in Angela Morton's latest collection, The Holding Ground, is no accident, as the author herself informed me. It's something to do with the most economical size of volume for printing and binding. Bearing this in mind, I hope they did a better job of binding the rest of the batch than they did with my copy.

There is nothing mediocre about what lies between the covers. Nevertheless, some of the poems are, if you'll forgive the pun, a closed book to me, even after several readings. This is not because I haven't shared some of Angela Morton's experiences, and there are plenty of moments when she successfully strikes a chord. I can only say that I found the collection as a whole "difficult", if not downright obscure.

If it isn't presumptuous to draw comparisons, Eliot comes to mind quite often in the reading, not just because of the twin pieces, Miranda and Prospero, but because of the poet's general ability to summon up mysterious abstract ideas out of physical detail, as in The room at the top of the stairs and Dr Gachet and the pale flower. The literary allusions, particularly to the metaphysical Vaughans, add to the overall impression. Yet it becomes clear, as the reader progresses, that she is referring to incidents and episodes that have far more personal significance, and carry more individual suffering, than any mere generalisation or "universal" theme such as love or even depression.

By what it was, one of the simplest poems in the book, reveals nearly everything about its author's past experiences, present situation, and future hopes. Characteristic of Angela Morton's poetic style are assonance and word-play: "tissues of married flesh, marred and scared". The pattern of words on the page has its own importance, as do the descriptions of familiar Welsh landscapes, and the references to Van Gogh - a role model for obvious reasons.

Yes, these are peculiarly intimate poems, and this is a book to which I shall be returning time and again, if only for the challenge.


ISBN 1 899449 90 6 Published by The Collective Press, 2002

64pp, paperback Retail price 6.50 ($12.00)

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