“Shrines of Upper Austria”

The back cover of Phoebe Power’s “Shrines of Upper Austria” promotes a ‘formally restless collection’ – and that’s exactly right; the book employs multiple technical forms from the more traditionally poetic through to plain, undifferentiated prose. And because the sources are also eclectic – for example some reported speech, some German – what we end up with is something of a mixed bag. Inevitably some parts are more successful than others, more ‘poetic’ than others.

You might want to debate examples where the language simply isn’t ‘English enough’. Maybe that’s a reflection of some of the sources (‘broken English‘ perhaps), but it can generate components that are difficult to read and make sense of. If, however, the purpose of literature is to communicate, and if what you are reading fails to communicate anything that you can relate to in terms of idea, understanding, image, then what does that say about what we’re reading? [I say ‘to relate to’ because the process of reading is of course a two-way street.]

Having said all of that, I get an undercurrent of someone experimenting with their craft. There’s undoubtedly a voice in this collection, but I’ll be surprised if it ends up being the final, mature voice of this poet.