The thirty-two poems in this collection are thirty-two very different dances, folk-dances, with precise and intricate steps and forms in common. Like folk-dances, the reader moves through the lines down the length of the village hall, or the lines down the page, and never finishes opposite the same partner or in the same place. Throughout the book the poems use their forms as sets, and this adherence to form enables the images to turn each other, reverse and circle back to what seems like a beginning. The reversals in “Communion” are held together by a repetition of sybillants down through the twelve lines of the poem.
The English countryside is the landscape present throughout these poems, and Sampson lets the beauty of this landscape speak in unrefracted, transparent images: “summer evenings at the weir”, “Bodies the colour of earth,/ clayclagged,” “the way/a milk of mist/stripes fields on early summer mornings.” But its beauty allows her to look at its darkness. The final poem in the collection, “The Hare,” takes the images of falconry, woods, and a hooded figure as the figures in a dream narrative of the hunting of desire. The trees are “row after row of trembling gold/dressed in shadow.” The landscape is shot through with myth, nursery rhyme, song and violence. “Rough Music” transforms Orpheus and Eurydice to a tale of country girls lost to heroin and suicide. “Zeus to Juno”shows “the discarded body” in “long grass” after rape, vulnerable to “the scavenging crow.” “The Door” takes the reader from her front door in the countryside to the city through the music on the radio, highlighting as “buried tunes” the loss of English countryside.
Verbal and imagic mirroring, or reversal, is also present in “The Miracle Tree,” a poem with strong echoes of medieval Christian poetry. The first stanza is simple: “The true Rood/is in the tree”, but this simplicity is mirrored in the third stanza as “The true tree/is in the Rood”. The form of this poem is of a two line stanza followed by a three line stanza, repeated four times; each time abstraction followed by images of fruit, sap, and blood. The mirroring enables Sampson to explore the way that life and death echo and dance round each other within Christian symbolism. In “Skater,” which is one of the strongest poems in the collection, the image of the mirror becomes explicit, “an elegant/enlarging lens – silver, ornee”, which is the ice “where glass/waits to splinter”, the “dream membrane” which holds apart “night, dark water.” Its form – the third line of each stanza indented – holds the possibility of imperfection, of the breaking of the ice. In “Crow Voodoo” and “Blade,” the reversals lead to violence – “Now touch her – / with the edge/ or your knife.”
“The Code” describes DNA as “holding a pattern before it shows/capacity-,” but within the unfolding metaphors is a stanza which explicitly echoes Cock Robin:
Nursery rhyme is certainly poetry, but in this instance I am not convinced that the splicing of nursery rhyme and science works. The poem ends too neatly–“the public secret of a code/ the whole world knows.”–and it also demonstrates the one flaw in this collection, the loss of music which occurs when the poet dwells directly on the metaphysical. In “At Kasmu,” she asks, “why should I finally face/the problem of identity,” two of a number of prosaic lines which break up a long lyric sequence of images. Sampson of all poets is a musician, and most of the compositions of form, images and rhyme in this collection are compelling, disturbing and beautiful.