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Review of The Estate - Paul Batchelor, the North, 15 October 200815 October 2008
Sasha Dugdale is a poet of great subtlety and rare formal resource. She is also able to use personae from myth and history convincingly, and one of the highlights of her excellent second collection, The Estate, is Lot's Wife. In Dugdale's rendering, the woman looks back not in curiosity, but in order to turn away from her fellow survivors (a righteous, sanctimonious bunch). By doing so, she is granted a vision unavailable to them, but prevented from expressing it. In a single moment, she comes into existence as a subject and is annihilated:Previous review of 'The Estate'... Next review of 'The Estate'... To the 'The Estate' page...
As I climb
All alone and into the wilderness
With a Lord and a box of matches
And the universe expanding
Speckled with stars racing apart
Lighting me with their ancient destruction
Your mineral words dissolve
Into the ground from whence they came
And the small voice is gone.
Look at your people.
I speak for the first time.
Dugdale's poem seems to emerge from the pressures of the original story, possessing its ironies without trying to qualify or escape from them. The ending is inevitable, but the poem makes this inevitability its own.
This respect for the individual, and motif of turning away from the crowd, recurs throughout The Estate. The collections begins with a series of poems about Pushkin who, travelling to St Petersburg in 1825, sees a hare cross his path. Interpreting this as a bad omen, he turns back, and in doing so saves his life: the friends he was going to see are later executed in the Decembrist uprising. Such withholding and questioning of solidarity applies to Dugdales' own practice as a poet: she has coolly and quietly insisted on developing her own style, mastering a distinct ranges of tones that belong entirely to her. Here, a mother addresses her newborn baby:
We are separate and alive, you and I,
Picking out tunes quietly resistant
To sleep and dream.
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