One of the things I love in reading is the sudden expansion of consciousness that you get when an allusion comes alive in your mind. My most vivid reading memories from teenage years involve experiences of that kind.

In one, I was fourteen, in a Spartan holiday camp in the lovely Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, reading C S Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. We children were in one chilly, bare-floored, stone-walled ‘rondavel’ hut, our parents in another. Suddenly I came on the statement that Merlin’s magic ultimately derived from … Numenor! I loved The Lord of the Rings and had already … Continue Reading

John Greening, Vapour Trails – review

In his introduction to Vapour Trails Greening writes, ‘A half-decent poetry review should be readable well beyond its original publication date and entertain you whether or not you are interested in the book (or even the genre); it must give you some idea, pretty economically, what the poet’s collection is like; and it should offer you a way in to the work, suggesting with greater or lesser subtlety whether it’s worth your time.’

So what makes these reviews still worth our time? Partly it’s the sweep and penetration of Greening’s judgements, partly the sheer pleasure of his language.

Making clear distinctions is … Continue Reading

Michael Longley, The Candlelight Master – review

One of the pleasures of this book is the way it gives us more of what Longley has been giving for so long: more orchids and otters, splinter-moments of Homeric epic, addresses to fellow artists, old friends and family members. For readers familiar with his work, any of Longley’s books, almost, indeed, any of his poems, will seem to reach out into many others. He’s a poet of individually mostly short, sometimes tiny pieces, but the way one leads into another gives his writing a paradoxical amplitude and reach. And however much he revisits the same preoccupations, he’s never simply … Continue Reading

Jen Hadfield, The Stone Age – review


You can read my review of The Stone Age in the London Grip by clicking here.

Ciaran Carson, Still Life – review


You can read my review of this fine collection in The London Grip by clicking here.

Inspiring form

I was very struck by this passage from an interview with Thom Gunn, quoted by Lisa McCabe on Twitter. It’s the most complete statement I’ve seen of something that I imagine will be dimly felt by everyone who tries to write seriously in a technically challenging way. Asked what the constriction of a pre-determined form pressed him (or one) to do, Gunn answered


It presses you to explore the subject. That’s the simple answer. It presses you to explore everything: the subject itself, your reactions to it, to explore language. There’s a fascinating thing that happens with the need … Continue Reading

Sean Borodale, Intimates – review

All the poems in Sean Borodale’s Intimates are about insects and, according to the cover blurb, all those described are found in and around the author’s house. Within this narrow, familiar space he sees a fabulously varied strangeness. Written with skill, originality and imaginative dedication by an author praised to the skies by eminent judges, it’s a book I expected to find compelling, as many people surely will. However, I personally read it with more respect than warmth or involvement.

Though they’re written in a highly wrought, bardic style and at a high pitch of intensity, I found most of the … Continue Reading

David Constantine, Belongings – review

If Glenday’s Selected Poems persistently look inwards, those of David Constantine’s Belongings are focused outwards, on the world around the poet. A short review can’t do justice to their range, seriousness, individuality or challenge. They pay extremely close attention to what in ‘Maps’ Constantine calls ‘the holy particulars’: individual people, animals, trees and events at specific times and in specific places. This is where he finds the solidity and significance he describes as ‘presence’. Sometimes they involve large, easily recognizable social issues, but the focus is always on the concrete and particular, not the abstract and general. Wider connections … Continue Reading

John Glenday, Selected Poems – review

John  Glenday’s Selected Poems adds nine pieces to a selection of work from his five previous books. It’s a small output for the time he’s been writing but a very fine one.

The main features of his work have been clear from the beginning: avoidance of rhetoric, meticulous craftsmanship, love of balanced forms, and skill in combining musical qualities with a conversational style. These features are integrally related to the way the ‘I’ of the poems seems to think and feel. His voice is quiet and measured, though what he says can be startling or disturbing. Even when directly addressing the … Continue Reading

The Barbarians Arrive Today C. P. Cavafy, translated by Evan Jones – review

‘Traditore traduttore.’ All translations involve distortion, dilution or both, and good translations of great poetry tease us with the desire to get closer to the original than any one version can bring us. Evan Jones’s The Barbarians Arrive Today gives all the canonical poems and a large number of unpublished ones (Jones calls them ‘hidden’) in English translation only, together with nine prose pieces. It’s a valuable supplement to existing translations, for those who already know Cavafy, and a good point of entry for those who don’t. There are masterstrokes in it that throw a brighter light on particular poems … Continue Reading