IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
A Bowl Of Warm Air by Moniza Alvi (OUP pounds 6.99). "Deceptively simple" according to some, just plain simple to others, Alvi's second collection opens with an even-handed meditation on her mixed East-West identities: gorgeous India and Pakistan, and rainy England, where puddles are mirrors and "a rat lies lifeless, sodden/ as an old floorcloth". The face beneath these faces seldom becomes substantial or gets much beyond multicultural pieties. The theme of doubleness runs throughout the book, and works best when anchored in specifics, as in "Shoes and Socks", which touchingly conjures the motley footwear left on the steps of the mosque.

There Was Fire in Vancouver by Sinead Morrissey (Carcanet pounds 6.95). Morrissey's attractive debut takes her on journeys literal and spiritual, all the way from a Communist upbringing to her "new angels" and the long wrestle with God and belief. The Troubles loom into sight in a fine five-liner on the much-bombed "Europa Hotel" ("You wake up one morning with your windows/ Round your ankles and your forehead billowing smoke; / Your view impaired for another fortnight / of the green hills they shatter you for"). A nearby poem about violent death commends silence as the only honesty. On occasion the poems merely assert, or chat, or exclaim, but there's an attractive honesty in her voice, and an ambitious reaching out towards large emotional truths.

Velocities: New And Selected Poems by Stephen Dobyns (Bloodaxe pounds 10.95). The American Stephen Dobyns writes both crime novels - one with the fetching title Cold Dog Soup - and poems in the tough vernacular tradition that looks for its epiphanies in five garbage collectors guzzling chocolate cake in a side street, or the "fatal kisses" of creases on old foreheads, or, in a photograph, a "Favorite Iraqi soldier" escaping from the battlefield in a black three-piece suit - almost certainly the best poem yet written about the Gulf War. The manner throughout is prosy, downbeat, humorous, stoic, anti-inflationary, anti-poetic, as befits someone who was a friend and student of Raymond Carver, yet one which can also make surprising new connections and soar off with the best of them.

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