Original voices are always slippery to describe. The familiar weighing mechanisms don’t work very well when the body of work floats a little above the weighing pan, or darts around in it. As in dreams, a disturbing familiarity may envelop the work with an elusive scent. It is no different for poetry than for any other art: the mercurial alloy, or unforeseen offspring, astonish and perturb. They divide opinion. The reception to date of Emma Lew’s poetry, gathered for the first time in her New and Selected Poems, demonstrates this effect.
Crow College takes an uneven number of poems from Lew’s two full-sized collections, The Wild Reply (1997) and Anything the Landlord Touches (2002). A number of the new poems previously appeared in a Vagabond Press Rare Objects chapbook, Luminous Alias (2013). While these new poems are as strong as the earlier ones, they contain a larger proportion of pantoums. Unlike other critics, I regard most of these as less successful than the more organically organised poems. The constraint is often too apparent, and the content made to fit.