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9 - Anne Stevenson and the Poetry of Place

Sean Pryor
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Angela Leighton
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

At some point in the late 1960s or the early 1970s, while she was living in Glasgow, Anne Stevenson penned the following lines:

Pigeons, pee-gulls,

urchins, equals,

civic defecators,

public decorators,

deacons, dowagers,

skarters, scavengers,

earth-boats, roof-ducks,

doxies for noon-drunks,

puffed up anyhow,

citizens of Glasgow.

An ordinary scene in the middle of an ordinary day: it is easy to imagine her having stopped for lunch in the sunshine and pausing to take stock. The poem is titled ‘Pigeons in George Square’ and was published in an anthology, but it has never been collected in any of Stevenson's own volumes. Perhaps it seemed too slight. T.S. Eliot might have called it a ‘Five-Finger Exercise’, like his ‘Lines to a Duck in the Park’.

Yet in its combination of the panoramic and the particular, the poem neatly indicates some of the characteristic ways in which Stevenson's poetry depicts people and places, and situates itself among people and places. ‘The way you say the world is what you get’, Stevenson declares in ‘Saying the World’. (She then borrowed the line for the title of the first section of Poems 1955–2005, a large section devoted to poems of place.) If ‘Pigeons in George Square’ presents an ordinary noon in Glasgow, its voice, its way of saying the world, is much less ordinary. Declining to introduce an I, a speaker, the voice of the poem nevertheless places its act of observation.

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Chapter
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Voyages over Voices
Critical Essays on Anne Stevenson
, pp. 125 - 150
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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