Public Dream by Frances Leviston
Sunday 05 October 2008
"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.
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