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06Jul

Poetry book of the month: Lyonesse by Penelope Shuttle – review

Combining two collections in one, the veteran poet immerses us in a mythical kingdom in this extraordinary flow of work


There is always the risk of overlooking an established poet as a known quantity. And it is therefore especially pleasing to be able to hail Penelope Shuttle for her 13th collection, Lyonesse. At 74, she has produced a singular, arresting and moving book in which her talent, far from seeming familiar or faded, is underpinned by the accumulated wisdom of decades. The book contains two collections in one, hinged by a theme of loss.

Lyonesse is Cornwall’s mythical kingdom – its Paradise Lost. It was Thomas Hardy’s name for the county, but is also said to have been a real piece of west Cornwall lost in the bronze age – swept under the sea. It is this kingdom that has fired – watered – Shuttle’s imagination and produced an extraordinary flow of work. I should confess that the prospect of the ancient Cornish myth did not make my heart beat faster – I have a blind spot about folksy revival. But this is no fey evocation of a lost kingdom. Shuttle’s Lyonesse is fresh, clear and convincing. It gives grief geography, an address. I believe in its direct dispatches from a submerged front line.

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