Greek Lyric Poetry by M L West

It’s an interesting experience coming to M. L. West’s Greek Lyric Poetry after reading Stanley Lombardo’s and Anne Carson’s Sappho translations. With Lombardo and Carson, in any of the longer fragments and even in short phrases you find yourself reading English words that immediately strike home as living poetry. To be sure, something similar can happen in short snatches in West’s translations, as in these lines addressed to a bridegroom:

How handsome you are with your gentle eyes
and your lovely face all radiant with desire.

West was of course an extremely distinguished classicist, and I can’t judge the relative accuracy … Continue Reading

Ian Humphrey’s Zebra – review

Ian Humphreys’ Zebra has come out to a deluge of praise and it’s easy to see why. Above all this book leaves you with the impression of his uninhibited zest for life, his high spirits, humour and resilience.  Singing what it was to be gay and of mixed race in the eighties, he can briefly touch rueful, even bitter notes, but they’re soon absorbed in the prevailing exuberance. This even applies to two elegies which I suspect may be for people who died of AIDs. The first of these – ‘Clear-out’ – is grim in its setting and prevailing imagery … Continue Reading

Vidyan Ravinthiran, The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here – review

You can link to my review in PN Review 250 by clicking here – full review only available to subscribers.

John Heath-Stubbs, Selected Poems – review

John Heath-Stubbs, Selected Poems ed. John Clegg, 128 pp, £9.99, Carcanet Press

John Heath-Stubbs was a prolific poet whose career can be seen as developing in two parts. In his own introduction to his Collected Poems, he ‘half-repudiated’, as John Clegg puts it, the poetry before 1965. Clegg thinks he was wrong. I think he was essentially right and that by giving over half this selection to the earlier poetry Clegg diminishes his achievement.

Admittedly the early poems show remarkable gifts. Many are not easily forgotten once read. This is already true of Clegg’s first, ‘Leporello’, published when Heath-Stubbs was twenty-three. However, … Continue Reading

Tishani Doshi, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods – review

Tishani Doshi can be uneven but she’s a highly talented, accomplished author who writes memorably in both passionately engaged and humorously detached modes.

Various poems respond to misogyny and the horror of sexual violence. One such, ‘Everyone Loves a Dead Girl’, shows how strength and weakness can be intertwined in her work. The title ripples with multiple suggestions, some sad, some bitingly ironic. The first two lines combine narrative drive with lingering reflectiveness:

They arrive at parties alone because they are dead
now and there is nothing to fear except the sun.

The delicate placing of ‘now’ after the line-end pause puts … Continue Reading

Ruth Padel’s Emerald – review

Ruth Padel, Emerald, 80 pp, £10, Chatto & Windus, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd, Westminster, London SW1V 2SA

In Emerald, emotional intensity flowers out of artistic restraint and its carefully measured statements achieve wide resonance. The book brings together poems prompted by the death of the poet’s mother and poems about the cutting and mining of emeralds or more generally about greenness. Grief and loss lie alongside beauty and hope, mundane experience is juxtaposed with travel, history, scientific analysis, fairytale and myth. Modes of discourse shift accordingly, though it hardly ever feels as though contrast between modes is the point. The shifts … Continue Reading

The Divine Madness of Love – Stanley Lombardo’s Sappho

For me, Stanley Lombardo’s translations of Sappho are a fire-new revelation[1]. Not reading any dialect of Ancient Greek, I’ve been wholly dependent on translations for my sense of her work. Several have moved me over the years, of course – haunting versions of fragments 16, 31, and 168 in particular. Apart from these, and Michael Longley’s lovely incorporation of Fragment 104(a) into his elegy “Evening Star”, I’ve read her as if through distorting glass. I’d admired the intricacy of Poem 1 in a cerebral way but it never came alive for me as poetry. Then I read this:… Continue Reading

John Ridland’s translation of Pearl – review

Pearl: A New Verse Translation in Modern English by John Ridland, Able Muse Press, 467 Saratoga Avenue #602, San Jose, CA95129, USA; pbk 154 pp.; £16.95

Pearl is a poem of 1212 lines written by an anonymous author in late fourteenth century England and surviving in a single manuscript. It’s one of the high points of medieval English literature. The author is usually thought to have written Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and two other poems preserved in the same manuscript.

Pearl presents itself as the speaker’s account of a dream in which he has been granted the vision of a … Continue Reading

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