Forbidden words – “vermilion” in Hopkins’ “The Windhover”

I’ve just been introduced to a list of “forbidden words” in poetry. “Vermilion” is one of them. But look at Hopkins’ “The Windhover” – how he makes “vermilion” burst off the tongue with a sense of sudden release and then settle into quietness. There are bigger miracles in the poem, of course, but I want to talk about this one in the context of the idea that some words are too clichéd for us to use in our poems.


The Windhover

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
…..dom of daylight’s dauphin, … Continue Reading

Review – Kelvin Corcoran, Facing West

Kelvin Corcoran, Facing West, 84 pp, £9.95, Shearsman Books.


“Abduction Zone”, the title sequence of the first section of Corcoran’s Facing West, illustrates some of the attractions and challenges of his writing. He’s a master of metre and rhythm, both in the singing and the speaking line. This is a constantly varied source of pleasure as he shifts between different tones, registers and contexts. However, I feel that this sequence of more than 150 lines interweaves its allusions to classical myths, classical and twentieth century Greek history and the country’s current economic and political situation too loosely and sketchily to make … Continue Reading

Review – Philip Gross, Love Songs of Carbon

You can link to my review of Love Songs of Carbon in PN Review by clicking here.

Review – W S Merwin’s Garden Time

Somehow I forgot to post a link to my review of Garden Time in PN Review, which you can find here. Disregard the misleading title.

Review of Imagine: New and Selected Poems by Shanta Acharya

You can link to my review of Imagine in The Manchester Review by clicking here

You can find my review of her Dreams That Spell the Light (a selection from which makes up the penultimate section of Imagine) by clicking here.

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

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

Review – The Occupant by Jane Draycott

The Occupant by Jane Draycott. Carcanet Press, 64 pp. £9.99

These quietly beautiful, profoundly unsettling poems neither present puzzles nor tell you what to think; they ask you to dwell on them and in them imaginatively, letting their resonances and suggestions accumulate in your mind. This is made a pleasure by their formal grace. Phrase by phrase, they make clear, vivid, evocative statements, but as wholes they resist resolving into settled impressions or rounding off into paraphrasable conclusions. Each is charged with hidden depths, elliptical connections and startling changes of tack. They take you on long journeys in a few words. … Continue Reading

Review – James Sheard’s The Abandoned Settlements

James Sheard, The Abandoned Settlements, 64 pp, £9.99, Jonathan Cape

Sheard’s intense lyrical subjectivity contrasts with both Longley and Clifton. Most of the poems in The Abandoned Settlements involve the ending of a relationship. Many are haunted by other losses, personal or cultural. In some the break-up of the relationship is central; in others, like the fine title poem, there’s a wider focus and a looser weave of analogies between different scenes of physical dereliction and different places where lost love is remembered. This is one of many poems that display Sheard’s gifts in the orchestration of sound and rhythm, … Continue Reading

Review – Michael Longley’s Angel Hill

Michael Longley, Angel Hill, 80 pp, £10.00, Jonathan Cape, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd, London SW1V 2SA

From the first words of Angel Hill you know you’re in the hands of a master. Joyfully rehearsing old themes and landscapes, Longley brings an ever-finer touch to their expression. The opening poem, addressed to Fleur Adcock, is typical: yet another celebration of an old friendship, yet another celebration of an artist, yet another poem about wild flowers and birds, it’s also completely fresh and alive in itself. Like all these poems, it’s humane and profoundly civilised, remarkable for its ability to hold in balance … Continue Reading