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Dear Big Gods by Mona Arshi – review

Clifton’s poems [in Herod’s Dispensations] draw strength from their grounding in fact and from the directness with which he offers his voice or the voice of apparently real characters (like whoever speaks at the start of ‘Zhoukoudian’). Arshi writes with equal power but in a wholly different way. She creates micro-worlds of dream-like intensity, surreal distortion, fantasy and myth. This applies even to poems apparently based on real events, like the account of hoe a boy (her brother?) was attacked by wasps. Other poems in which she seems to speak to or about her brother after his death combine … Continue Reading

Harry Clifton, Herod’s Dispensations – review

The most spell-binding passage in Herod’s Dispensations is the first part of ‘Zhoukoudian’. This describes the finding of a ‘Peking Man’ hominid fossil in the Zhoukoudian cave system in China in 1929. The writing is a metrical and syntactical triumph, creating a suspense-filled imaginative hush within which glimpses of immediate life, vast reaches of time and metaphysical assumptions about man’s place in the universe play into and against each other. In the first few lines, time is the layers of geological time the archaeologists are digging through, the historical time that separates 1929 from now, and the immediate moment of … Continue Reading