Jamie McKendrick, “The Carved Buddha”

The Carved Buddha

 

Within the lotus bud of sandalwood that needs
to be pried open by a thumbnail the Buddha sits
cross-legged on a flower exuding the odour of resin
under a light coating of gold leaf.

It belonged to Mrs Ogilvie from Aberdeen;
when she opened the perfect fit of the upper lid
I knew that nothing made by the hand of man
could hold a candle to it. Its beauty blazed

but quietly, a tiny inexhaustible thing.
I instantly forgot the ban on brazen
idols, and remembered the mustard seed.

You could not guess what the small plain
capsule concealed, and … Continue Reading

Bakkhai by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson – review

Bakkhai by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson. Oberon Books, 521 Caledonian Road, London N7 9RH, 72 pp. £9.99.

Oberon Books specialises in theatre, drama and the performing arts. I think the truest home of this stripped-for-action dramatic text is probably in the theatre, but Anne Carson is a poet and her Bakkhai has much to offer the private reader, whether on its own or as a complement to another version. I’ve read several. For some things I think this is the best.

Bakkhai, or The Bacchae as it’s commonly called, was first performed in 405 BC and is the last play by … Continue Reading

Jamie McKendrick’s Anomaly – review

Anomaly by Jamie McKendrick. £14.99 (hardback). Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571349210

Most lovers of poetry on the page will enjoy Jamie McKendrick’s sharp eye, irreverent intelligence and linguistic flair, but the urbane, sophisticated poems of Anomaly will have a more particular appeal for those who enjoy a play of thought too mobile and finely poised to lock itself down into conclusions. In this way Anomaly marks a change from McKendrick’s previous collections. None of the new poems have the emotional intensity of some of his earlier ones but this is not through loss of poetic power. In many of those earlier … Continue Reading

Helen Dunmore, Counting Backwards: Poems 1975–2017

Helen Dunmore, Counting Backwards: Poems 1975–2017 Bloodaxe Books, 416 pp, £14.99

 

PN Review subscribers can find my review here.

Ruth Padel, “Salon Noir”

This is a remarkable poem. You can link to an earlier version of its text than the one in Emerald by following this link to the praccrit.com website, where there’s also an interview with Padel.

The poem opens “When we went down into the cave / this summer”. I’ve had a nagging sense of something oracular and dramatic lurking behind those breathless rhythms and it suddenly hit me what it was – the opening of Ezra Pound’s Canto I:

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and … Continue Reading

Frieda Hughes, Out of the Ashes – review

Out of the Ashes, by Frieda Hughes. Bloodaxe Books. 240 pp. £12

Handsomely produced, like all Bloodaxe books, Out of the Ashes is a generous selection from four of Hughes’ previous collections, not including the US-published Forty-five or the illustrated Alternative Values. Hughes’ introduction sets the poetry in the context of her life, explaining some of her purposes and procedures, and at the end there’s a section of notes to particular poems.

My own response is mixed. As I read poetry, syntax and metre are the bones and muscles that give a poem living shape and make it move. Perhaps it’s Hughes’ … Continue Reading

Derek Mahon, Against the Clock – review

Against the Clock, by Derek Mahon. Gallery Press. 80 pp. €11.95

Life on Earth is my favourite among Mahon’s later collections. Nothing in Against the Clock seems to me as electrifying as that volume’s “Homage to Gaia”, but this too is a remarkably rich work by a mature master.

In the title poem, Mahon is seen spurring himself to write hard and as well as he can against the deadline of death. He describes how he encourages himself to take example from great poets who, whatever their faults in life and art, kept going to the end as writers. Then he describes … Continue Reading

Notes on “Upon Julia’s Clothes”

UPON JULIA’S CLOTHES

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free
O how that glittering taketh me.

My father liked Herrick, and this little poem delighted me in my early teenage years, especially, I think, the last two lines. The mere idea of nakedness was exciting then and there was added spice in the way Herrick combined a feeling of forthrightness (“each way free”) with teasing abstraction (“that brave vibration”, “that glittering”). Somehow the nakedness was the more … Continue Reading

Ruth Padel “The Emerald Tablet” – 2

Other things have kept me from following through on my last piece on “The Emerald Tablet”. Here’s a brief note on the stanza I quoted to illustrate the force of the sudden use of strong rhyme:

 

                                   what is inward
……buried in earth       in flesh       and in your mind
is also the bright surface of the world outside
……and is divine.

 

Perhaps it’s a confession of superficiality to say so but my keenest pleasure here may be of an almost purely sensuous kind. I partly get it from the fluent beauty and decisiveness of the sound, or rather from the sudden … Continue Reading

Michael Hofmann, One Lark, One Horse – review

One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann. £14.99 (hardback). Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571342297

Immediate attractions of One Lark, One Horse are the poet’s sharp intelligence, spectacularly fine lexical sense and mordant wit, as in the opening of “Cricket”:

Another one of those Pyrrhic experiences. Call it
an expyrrhience. A day at Lords, mostly rain,
one of those long-drawn-out draws so perplexing to Americans.

Creating the illusion of headlong, spontaneous speech, Hofmann’s assured control of rhythm and syntax makes puns, images and ideas seem to ignite almost incidentally. The tone keeps changing, and different perspectives play into and out of each other, but … Continue Reading