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Review: Syllable of Stone, by Patrick Lane

Rarely brilliant ... no poet I have ever reviewed for this magazine has impressed me more. If, as appears to be the case, this is the first selection of the work of Patrick Lane to appear in this country, I am utterly amazed. I cannot hope in the space of a review to offer more than pointers and a handful of quotations, but I urge anyone who is reading this to get the volume for themselves, and allow a few unoccupied days in your timetable for it to make its mark on you, as it will. What is so good about it? My feeble remarks will be mere gestures, and the quality of writing merits a bookful of illustrations. This is writing with immense integrity which gets to the heart of the truth... I'll allow that to stand whilst I search for more suitable generalisations. One of the problems is that there is great variety in the poetry: grisly myths or faery tales, lengthy anecdotes, what look like - but are not, according to the biographical notes - slices of autobiography, and interpolations of what I can only call, but the word is to pretentious, wisdom. And all the while is a grave, quiet voice reciting to you, telling things you knew but were not conscious of. ...Sexual love, passion? Not much of either in this selection. But compassion, yes, a great deal of that all-precious commodity. Humour? None that I could see. Lane has other tales to relate. Stoical, yes I suppose you could call his stance that, except that such a word brings to mind a certain posturing and self-consciousness: this poetry seems as natural, to quote Keats's touchstone, as leaves on a tree - and whilst I'm in this teritory, I had better assert that to dub Lane a nature poet would be as helpful as describing the Pope as a Catholic: the country is simply the place where he finds his truth. I am delighted to have found him.