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Review: A Ghost in my House, by Lorna Thorpe

If you are on course for a long train trip, do not put Lorna Thorpe's poems into your bag. You may never leave the platform. I have rarely read work with such a compelling emotional rush.

Thorpe's first poem, Lower Market Street, 1973, is characteristic: a breathless litany of drinks, drugs (legal and otherwise), men naked as eels, and the rueful revisiting of misjudgement: Sadie [...] who'll steal my green platform boots.

But A Ghost in my House is not an unremitting saga of drink and sex. One of Thorpe's ghosts is literature. The woman meeting her online date Vronski (In the flesh / he's twice as wide) has read Anna Karenina, and does briefly / consider hurling myself under a train.

Thorpe's poems are compelling as a shocking story overheard in a café ('third husband'?), with flashy riffs of bravado: 'what the hell, it was time to move on'. But they slip into the key of other voices. A woman imagines her baby, dead before birth: 'her heart as small as a poppy seed'. In Stage fright. The speaker knows she has nor revealed herself to her new lover. Alone, I sing as I should like to have sung / for you.

Thorpe's ghosts can turn savage. An Elizabeth David recipe ends with her desire to eat her faithless lover's heart...... Thorpe's endings also haunt, as when a poem speaks, like Mariner's, with the power of a lover's past, the frozen words / on her ashen lips forever turning him down,.

The book's central section reverberates with the speaker's childhood, immediate as Mariner's. Free school dinners lapses into a child's grammar: ritual humiliation - / me and Cheryl in front of the class. But the memory of a violent father leads not just to outrageous sex, but compassion for a bullied child, with terrors that crouch like cats behind closed doors. Thorpe is at her most impressive here, as poet and person, generous even to a brutal father: wasn't that his passion, quashed / by life?

Poetry is not mere sound. It can tune a reader to understanding. Thorpe reveals serial sex not as teenage kicks but as a way to harmonise - briefly - with the world:

the infinite promise of each first kiss,
that soft tumble into the lost place

A later poem, acknowledging the speaker is haunted by men who may [...] resemble my father, steps beyond the ghosts: this night, this man, this music. Even the book's title is snatched from a lyric. The ghost in the machine, in all these fine books, is song.

Lorna Thorpe's song has a story, and I will not reveal the shocks of its close. She speaks finally as the reader's ghost, with a lyrical sense of how my body felt, when it was warm. It seems to me almost impossible not to warm to these poems. But the poem's voice is the siren's: listen too long at your peril. Have you missed your stop?