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VINE VOICEon 18 May 2008
You can't flick through this collection browsing here and there, as you can with most. You really do have to read it in order, like a narrative, because it mirrors Sir John Mandeville's highly coloured 14th-century account of his world travels.

Now I know subject matter shouldn't make a difference, it should all be about the poet's skill. But the fact is, some subject matter really is more attractive than others - if we are going to immerse ourselves in a fictional world, it might as well be one we find congenial - and with me, tall travellers' tales are always going to win out over, say, confessional poems or misery memoirs. Who wouldn't want to hear about the Cairo Incubator and the way the excessive greenery in Egypt crystallises into a glut of emeralds? (I did say they were tall tales).

But in the end, the main recommendation of this collection is indeed Francis's skill with words. This fictional travelogue is all about new ways of seeing and re-creating the world - from the start, where he describes sleeping on board ship "while the night is lifted and dropped with you inside it". This wonderful inventiveness with words and ideas never fails him. "Of Islands" ends:

Islands and stories. Every time you arrive, you think
how it would feel to pull the sea around you at night,
except that the next land floats in the distance, waiting.

It was an old pirate saying that there were always "other islands, further on" and something of the enterprise and inspiration of those irresistible reprobates lives in this collection. I found it genuinely exciting to read, unputdownable in the way that poetry collections so frequently aren't. Mandeville's voice convinces all through it - well, convinces in the way that an adept con artist does, for though you are always aware that the information he imparts is fanciful, the voice in which it is uttered is very real.

If I were a betting person, I would wager this is going to end up on award shortlists - I certainly hope it will. I don't expect, this year, to read a collection that uses language with such inventiveness and exuberance.
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on 6 June 2016
The previous reviewer described the wonders of this book so well that I shan't try to add to it - just to reinforce what she says. The book is an exquisite joy to read. The only thing I can compare it to is Calvino's Invisible Cities - my favourite book of all time.

I am so happy to have found this one, and can't recommend it highly enough.
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