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Review: The Illegal Age, by Ellen Hinsey

Chris Edgoose, Wood Bee Poet, 9 Oct 2018

The word 'important' is over-used in poetry reviews, but in the case of Ellen Hinsey's The Illegal Age it seems to me the only appropriate adjective to describe a sequence which should be required reading on the National Curriculum. It is not a book we can afford to ignore; and I'm very grateful to the Poetry Book Society as I had heard of neither the book nor the poet before it came through the post as their Autumn Choice.

[...] In the same way that the restrictions of a strictly-rhymed sonnet simultaneously create and contain its content, The Illegal Age's three sections or 'investigation files' (Smoke, Ice and Obscurity - themselves divided legalistically into Reports, Evidence, Files, Internal Reports, more Evidence, more Files, and Testimony) allow Hinsey both to build a Kafkaesque edifice (though perhaps 'scaffold' would be a more appropriate, sinister word) that confines her language - and by restraining creates its meanings - and becomes a mysteriously self-contained world in which her own investigation can take place: What are these documents? Who is on trial? Who is sitting in judgement? Well, it would seem that autocracy itself is in the dock, indeed being condemned and imprisoned by its own dark strictures, but if that is the case there is no sense that we as readers are in any position of power - perhaps we may think ourselves members of some small resistance group rifling through the documentation of the collection by torchlight.