"Humbles", the visceral opener to Frances Leviston's debut collection, recalls masterpieces by Robin Robertson and William Stafford. That it survives such comparisons is evidence of how good a writer Leviston already is. Beginning with a deer killed on the road and closing with an eviscerated Judas hanging from a tree but "tethered to earth/ by all the ropes and anchors of his life", "Humbles" has no rival in the rest of Public Dream, which is a fine book nonetheless, mature and coherent.
Unified neither by an overtly autobiographical voice — it is hard to tell where the poet ends and her characters begin — nor by a distinctive new territory, these 36 poems are instead bound by motifs of light and darkness, dreams and an attentive wakefulness. There is also a fascinating paradox of fear articulated with poise and confidence, but most impressive is the work's memorability. While endings such as "We make our chances/ far from the mercy of weather, or man./ I hold this view for as long as I can", and "How can I demand love stop, and speak?" have a self-conscious, timeless authority, and "Scandinavia" nods rather vigorously at Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", Leviston always stays the right side of bookishness. Some readers might want a little rashness, effrontery and awkwardness from a poet in her mid-20s, but Public Dream must be a favourite to win this year's Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and Frances Leviston is certainly an outstanding new talent.