Spurious, Glorious

Lavinia Greenlaw

  • Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan
    Faber, 73 pp, £10.99, January, ISBN 978 0 571 33767 5

The long poem pre-empts its own significance. We expect more of it and less of ourselves, adjusting our pace and investing in the big picture. Hannah Sullivan’s majestic debut offers three big pictures – birth, coming of age and death – but this isn’t a triptych. Instead, these themes extend across the book, with the poems acting as a set of transparencies that enlarge and complicate one another.

Sullivan’s handling of time is also a matter of layers. Possibility, immediacy and loss are simultaneous from the start in the title of the first poem, ‘You, Very Young in New York’, and its opening lines:

Rosy used to say that New York was a fairground.
‘You will know when it’s time, when the fair is over.’
But nothing seems to happen. You stand around

On the same street corners …

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