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Jane Draycott: the Alchemy of Light

There’s a lovely phrase in Jane Draycott’s “An Alchemy” referring to the sun’s creation of “an alternative world / inscribed in the curvings of light”. Throughout The Night Tree,Draycott herself is the great alchemist of perception, using metaphor and simile not simply to express the world but to refract and bend it into strange shapes. To an unusual extent she insists on the unlikeness of the two poles of her comparisons, and this is what gives so many of her metaphors, similes and conceits both their peculiar thrill and their unusual imaginative resilience. Of course figurative speech always depends on … Continue Reading

Derek Mahon, “Afterlives 1”: to face or to evade

I’ve always disliked the way Mahon changed the first line of the fourth stanza of “Afterlives 1” from the original “What middle-class cunts we are” to “What middle-class twits we are” or “What middle-class shits we are”.

I used to think I was simply irritated by his replacing a strong, brutal word with a weaker one and so diluting his expression. But really the nature of the betrayal is more specific than simple dilution. It goes to the heart of the poem. This poem doesn’t just talk about attitudes and ideas, it acts out the emotional conflict in the speaker. It’s … Continue Reading