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By Anne Karhio

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It is here, in the act of ‘mouthing words’ in ‘a feminine tongue’, that the poem’s narratorial identification with the mother is, momentarily, complete. Its problematic and awkward act of historical ventriloquism (section 6, presenting the narrative of the mother, is entitled ‘In Her Voice’) enables an evasion of its own movement into history and allows, instead, a dramatization of historical trauma that is both an enactment and a refusal. ‘Metro’ subsequently turns to a conceptualization of tradition in relation to family.

The specific problems presented by a long poem – tensions between lyric and narrative modes, sustaining themes and symbolic patternings, establishing coherent relations between parts and whole – are important in considering the poem’s exploration of relations between form and crisis. Repetition, in the sense of formal consistency, structures the poem, but is resisted by the irregular rhyme and metre of the poem’s stanzas, holding only loose forms that Szirtes deploys to imply organization. Variation of repetition, in terms of formal incompleteness and generic fragmentation, mimics the impossibility of full knowledge – ‘Even now I know little about my mother’ (p.

As a form of poetic expression, the list enacts a condition of poetic exhaustion which is also necessarily an expression of the continuance of poetry. ’ (p. 161). ‘It’s lists and rosters, jigsaws piece by piece’ (p. 161), this sonnet concludes. And yet the poem continues in its listing, in its enumeration of everyday realities: Straight ahead of you A lift-cage dressed in iron broderie, A smell of coffee brewing, an envelope Slit like a wound, the darker recesses Of sitting rooms, momentarily opened.

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