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Harry Clifton, Herod’s Dispensations – review

The most spell-binding passage in Herod’s Dispensations is the first part of ‘Zhoukoudian’. This describes the finding of a ‘Peking Man’ hominid fossil in the Zhoukoudian cave system in China in 1929. The writing is a metrical and syntactical triumph, creating a suspense-filled imaginative hush within which glimpses of immediate life, vast reaches of time and metaphysical assumptions about man’s place in the universe play into and against each other. In the first few lines, time is the layers of geological time the archaeologists are digging through, the historical time that separates 1929 from now, and the immediate moment of … Continue Reading

Review – Harry Clifton, Portobello Sonnets

Harry Clifton, Portobello Sonnets, 48 pp, £9.95, Bloodaxe Books

Even skilful sonnets can make the heart sink when the poet’s use of a fixed form seems to suppress any sense of natural speech rhythms or spontaneous thought. In Portobello Sonnets, though, it’s as if spontaneously evolving thought and speech are discovering form as they go. Freed from set rhyming structures, they give the impression of soaring freely whilst actually riding currents of formal expectation in a creatively selective way.

All are set within the Portobello district of Dublin, often among specific, named streets and buildings. Clifton wrote them as a returnee to … Continue Reading