“Stone Milk” Anne Stevenson – review

Stone Milk Anne Stevenson (Bloodaxe)

Anne Stevenson epitomises quiet accomplishment in its strongest sense: her poems are a delight to read, eg from “City Lights”:

“…as I stumble from some urinous underpass,
pulled up suddenly by the great conch of St Paul
cast like a fossil or a shelled moon on the clay-white
phosphorescent shore The City calls night,
revealed in its splash of glory
as a vessel of arrested, accepted, outwardly reflected light…”

The rhyme scheme isn’t fully clear from the extract, but look also at the assonance and alliteration – the “u” in “urinous underpass”, “pulled”, “suddenly”, “Paul,”, how the white images of “cast”, “fossil”, “moon” and “clay-white” build up on each other and the internal rhyme of “arrested” and “reflected” – making even the shorter poems enjoyable to read.

Anyone else writing “Lament for the Makers”, a sequence based on medieval dream poetry inspired by Dante but firmly contemporary in tone and subject, would have been publishing and performing it at every opportunity, perhaps even giving it its own myspace profile, but Anne Stevenson lets the sequence speak for itself. In Stevenson’s poetic underworld she meets Ted Hughes, “…He turned away,/ throbbing, at the heart/ of his own tear…” that “tear” deliberately ambiguous, and acknowledges his first wife, Sylvia Plath, would never recognise her own biographer. But Anne Stevenson backs away from self-indulgence and intrusiveness, her focus, as always, is the poetry.

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