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Review: Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dmitri Shostakovich, by Joanna Boulter

Anne Berkeley, Seam Poetry Magazine Issue 27, Autumn 2007

It's not surprising that this book has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection. Unity of structure - the story of Shostakovich and his battles with Stalin and his own conscience - is coupled with impressive formal control. Free verse poems are interspersed with sonnets, vilanelles, a sestina, mirror poems. It's not just showing off, either. A pantoum perfectly matches the sense of persecution and terror.

Don't be put off this book because you don't like Shostakovich. When he speaks, it is in form... The narrative is sketched, in language precise and tight. There are wonderful images. Motifs recur. It's rich in irony. And you can hear him. Sometimes, perhaps, the poets own voice comes through, as in Two Part Invention, a duet between poet and her subject: Of course it's incomplete, there are translation problems - I can only do my best. And that 'best' can be good indeed.