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

Ruth Padel, “The Emerald Tablet”

You can link to Ruth Padel’s “The Emerald Tablet”  by clicking here.  The whole poem seems to me remarkably rich and beautiful but for the moment I just want to say a few things about the technical skill of the writing in the opening stanzas (down to “divine”).

One of the things this involves is a peculiar interplay between firmness and tentativeness in rhyme, rhythm and syntax.

Syntax first. These first two sentences are quite long and complex in structure. The only punctuation, apart from full stops and capital letters, is the white space at the end of lines and dividing … Continue Reading

Review – Frances Sackett, Cradle of Bones

Cradle of Bones, The High Window Press, thehighwindowpress.com , 98 pp., £10

I’m delighted that my friend Frances Sackett, with whom I discussed poetry over a number of years, has had this collection published by The High Window Press. Her first, The Hand Glass, came out with Seren in 1996.

Some people like collections to be organized around a single clearly determined theme. That’s fine in a pamphlet but to my mind it easily becomes claustrophobic in longer volumes. I enjoy the freedom and variety you find in a body of work that’s accumulated slowly, reflecting the diversity of a poet’s interests … Continue Reading

POUND, YEATS, REMORSE – Pound’s Canto CXVI and Yeats’ “Man and the Echo”.

I’ve been dipping into Ezra Pound again, moving from the Selected Poems edited and introduced by Eliot, which I devoured as a sixth former in the late sixties to the very useful New Selected Poems and Translations edited by Richard Sieburth. The selection from The Cantos in the latter brought me to Canto CXVI, which excited me enormously in the early seventies. I seem to remember seeing it cited as showing that Pound finally “got it” in the sense of feeling remorse at his role as Mussolini’s propagandist in the Second World War. I’m not sure about that, at least … Continue Reading