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Review – Pennine Tales by Peter Riley

Pennine Tales by Peter Riley. Calder Valley Poetry. £4.50. ISBN: 978-0-9934973-2-2.

 Peter Riley was really only a name to me until I read this attractively produced booklet from Calder Valley Poetry. Knowing his links to Jeremy Prynne and the “Cambridge School”, I thought he might seem dauntingly experimental. In fact the poems of Pennine Tales are accessible and beautifully written. There are twenty-four, each twelve lines long.

From the start, I loved the polished fluency of the rhythms, with lines slipping seamlessly over line endings except where there’s a precisely calibrated hesitancy or interruption or gathering for emphasis in the flow of … Continue Reading

Pluto by Glyn Maxwell. Picador Poetry, 64 pp., £9.99

Maxwell is a dedicated formalist like Polley, and shares his strong sense of time’s attrition.

One poem on this theme struck me as pretty well perfect, so graceful  in expression, so complex and delicate in feeling that I’m afraid to bruise it by analysis:

NO SPECIAL DAY

It has asked to be treated like all the other days.
Not to be beamed at in assembly,
winked at, singled out for praise,
parted for or crowded round, not to be
starred or handed a badge or in obvious ways

made something of. In no uncertain terms
did it say no gifts, no cake, no … Continue Reading

The Havocs by Jacob Polley. Picador Poetry, 64 pp., £9.99

In metre, language, subject matter and genre, the poems of The Havocs are deeply and consciously rooted in many centuries of tradition. One of the finest is a translation / adaptation of “The Ruin” from the Old English Exeter Manuscript. Strikingly successful poems use the techniques of the Old English riddle, while others, such as “Langley Lane” and “The Bridge”, evoke the spirit and style of the Border ballads, or, like “Following the River”, of the dream vision poems so popular in the middle ages. Throughout the book, I found myself enjoying the shapeliness of Polley’s constructions, the virtuosity with … Continue Reading

Robin Robertson, Hill of Doors, 96 pp, £9.99 paperback, Picador.

Hill of Doors is packed with fine individual poems, highly varied in form, theme and style, though continually picking up motifs familiar from Robertson’s earlier work.  Contrasts of landscape heighten the sense of imaginative range. Scottish settings full of water and mist are opposed by luminous Mediterranean scenes and by the barren desert of “Wire”, an outstanding haiku sequence set on the Mexican – US border. These settings draw the poems together, both by similarity and contrast. As different strands develop, they’re often associated with different kinds of landscape. There’s a Christian strand, starting with a lovely meditation on Fra … Continue Reading

Godard’s Le weekend

I’d last seen Le weekend as a wide-eyed, easily overawed undergraduate soon after the 1968 Paris student riots. Before seeing it last night I was afraid it might seem to have aged badly in the way some other films that excited me at the time have.

I needn’t have worried. I found it deeply absorbing. Obviously it has dated in some ways, but these are mostly superficial, relating to things like clothes, gadgets, car styles and social manner. It’s the fate of all films to date more in this way than books do because films register the minutiae of physical appearance … Continue Reading

Poetry by heart in primary school?

I agreed when Peter Hitchens said on Question Time last night that it was a wonderful thing to have beautiful poems and lines of poetry in one’s head. But it’s a big jump from feeling that to supporting the idea of forcing all primary school children to learn poetry by heart.

Hitchens followed his eloquent description of what knowing poems can give us with a surly expression of pity for those who don’t know any, because their hearts are deserts (I can’t remember his exact words but I don’t think I’m misrepresenting his essential meaning). However, comparing his restless anger with … Continue Reading

Avoid adjectives? Not necessarily!

Too much on to think about blogging, but I can’t resist a few words about a pet bugbear: the cliched instruction to cut out adjectives. It gets its plausibility from the fact that adjectives are so often used lazily, virtually as filler words to round out a cadence, or because the poet isn’t confident of having conveyed an impression adequately, even though he actually has done that without the overinsistent adjective. But you only have to read a few pages of good poetry in a variety of styles to see the absurdity of making a fetish of the idea of … Continue Reading

Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

Wonderful indeed – more continuously absorbing than anything I’ve read or reread for years except the Fagles Iliad.

Young minds

One of the biggest thrills of being a teacher is simply watching powerful young minds engage. You’ve set a poetry task, say. The boys have started writing and know that they have to finish in five minutes (I’ve learned from classes by Cliff Yates and Peter Sansom that giving sharp, pressurising deadlines can drive brilliant breakthroughs). Heads lie on tables , eyes fix sideways on moving nibs, pens are chewed, everyone is busy. One or two stand out though. A weird kind of stillness comes over them – a stillness that quivers with inner movement. They’re like hunting dogs or … Continue Reading