Frances regularly reviews poetry for the Guardian, and has also reviewed for the TLS and the Yorkshire Post. Click on the title of the book to read the full piece online.

Book Review: Kay Ryan’s Odd Blocks: Selected and New Poems
“Work like this can be underestimated. The description of a flamingo that opens Odd Blocks, Ryan’s first UK publication, would seem to anticipate the cursory misreading: “she’s / too exact and sinuous / to convince an audience / she’s serious. The natural elect, / they think, would be less pink”, cleverly playing the putative audience off against the actual reader, who now feels determined to think in entirely the opposite way. It is typical of Ryan that the sexually politicised “pink” (one thinks of the LGBTQ pink triangle, for example) chimes gently in the world of signs rather than commanding the poem.” The Guardian, Saturday 22 October 2011

Book Review: Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions
“In “Sublimaze”, she passes from her husband’s hospital room through a “sunset-painted door”, entering a mythic landscape where she must execute certain tasks in order to vouchsafe his recovery. Partly based on legends of Hagia Sophia’s hidden entrance-ways, partly on the story of Buddha demanding a mustard-seed from “a house where no beloved ever died”, the poem is full of portals and rooms that form and dissolve, whisking Schnackenberg away from the hospital and back. “Sublimaze” is the brand name of an opioid analgesic, but in the poet’s hands it becomes a portmanteau: to amaze with sublimity; to submerge in a maze.” The Guardian, Saturday 8th October 2011

Essay: “Fabulous Appendages”: Ange Mlinko’s Shoulder Season
“[T]his feeling of powerlessness in the face of systems and forces so much larger and more inevitable than the individual will also makes for exhilarating poetry, as Mlinko and her reader surrender to the unfathomable complexity, intelligence and redundancy of a language evolving at high speed to keep pace with the world it has to describe. In evolutionary terms, our sense-skills are always ahead of our language-skills. Poetry – Mlinko’s poetry, at least – simply tries harder to keep up. Does the feeling of gorgeous inevitability in Mlinko’s work come from its acquiescence to the sublimated patterns of English, or from an active engagement with, and manipulation of, those patterns? This is false dichotomy, we learn: her poems show that intelligent language never simply speaks “through” us, but demands the application of intelligence in return, in a mutually-invigorating loop.”

Book Review: David Harsent’s Night
“Loss is the abiding theme: lost bets, lost loves, lost light. Narrators squint, “cock-eyed”, trying to make sense of the smudged forms in their suburban gardens. When night falls, there is nothing to see outside but your face in the glass. Memory becomes the centre of dramatic action – “limitless memory starting up in the dark” – although it’s often unreliable. A man wakes up on a beach with no idea how he came to be there; another endures glimpses of a sunlit past he couldn’t protect.” The Guardian, Saturday 5 February 2011

Book Review: Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability
“The use of the tear or teardrop of water, an intensely metaphysical symbol, places its own stabilising pressure on the poems, too: the best expressions of mutability endure. And yet this collection has no obvious designs on timelessness. Bubbles and cells relate to water and to the body, yes, but also to crashing markets and terrorist organisations; rarely can the reader doubt the poems’ 21st-century provenance.” The Guardian, Saturday 17 July 2010

Book Review: Ruth Stone’s What Love Comes To
“Stone seems to have been influenced as much by the eastern Europeans as she has by her compatriots. Wislawa Szymborska in particular comes to mind: they share an attractive compound of shrewdness, mischief and wonder, and, beyond those immediate effects, the shadow of a sorrow so enormous it has its own gravitational field, all of which seem to put human endeavour back in its proper place.”  The Guardian, Saturday 11 July 2009

Book Review: Emma Jones’s The Striped World
“By focusing on and even fetishising language, are poets guilty of betraying the very “thing” they try to describe? Are poems just half-sized replicas? Posing this question demonstrates a greater degree of self-awareness than may be obvious from some of the other poems here, especially those that permit themselves to write more directly about art: images such as “the sea that wrote in a fine crabbed hand” or “a poem is a pearl” seem unsatisfying by comparison.”
The Guardian, Saturday 14 February 2009

Book Review: Pauline Stainer’s Crossing the Snowline
“Even in the face of agonising private loss, Stainer remains mindful of, and generous towards, her reader. Barely a line passes without offering yet another magical observation – the lions at Colchester zoo in August “fed lumps of ice / flavoured with blood”; “the whizz of the biblical wind / in the mulberry trees”; “leverets with large hearts / in the liquid grass” – and such alertness and abundance is all the more valuable for being so hard-won.” The Guardian, Saturday 20 December 2008

Book Review: Christopher Middleton’s Collected Poems
“He experiments restlessly, provocatively, with allusion, quotation, typography, tone, only occasionally succumbing to the chaos that all experimental poets risk. His command of idioms, and the huge vocabulary at his fingertips, are quite astonishing; and by letting all fields of reference into his work – from poststructuralism to hick-talk – he offers us poetry equal to the world it depicts, but always with a radical undertow that saves it from being inertly permissive.” The Guardian, Saturday 13 September 2008

Book/DVD Review: Bloodaxe’s In Person: 30 Poets
“A shame, then, when so many unique poets are assembled, that the format prohibits any more than the odd stray comment on their work (Yang Lian’s English introductions to his Chinese poems are a welcome exception to this): with only three hours per DVD, the poets can do little more than read. While this is clearly the main attraction, few people who attend poetry readings do not enjoy the banter, the human aside. Perhaps this desire for personal revelation is satisfied by the glimpsed interiors in which the poets read, those halves of sofas, vistas of curtain, illegible spines of books.” The Guardian, Saturday 10 May 2008

Book Review: Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place
“There’s enough sympathy between the Canadian and Scottish-inspired poems to push against the spiky insularity of other work in Scots, reminding us that this is a dialect with a global dimension, and that Scottish settlers left deep marks on the New World. The scrub of Alberta and the moors of the isles, with their “blashy wadder”, can be as enchanting and as inhospitable as one another, and take a particular sensibility to love.” The Guardian, Saturday 16 February 2008