Radiant transparency – the style of Longley’s Angel Hill

You can only feel wonder at the quietly but profoundly startling first lines of Angel Hill:

…….for Fleur Adcock at 80


You gave me a gilded magnifying glass
For scrutinizing the hearts of wild flowers
(Which I did, kneeling in water meadows).

Their movement is  grave, measured and relaxed, like the tread of a sure-footed walker over a tussocky field. To say there’s not a hint of dramatic emphasis in the poem’s voice wouldn’t be putting the matter strongly enough though. There’s a positive avoidance of emphasis when it threatens to … Continue Reading

Notes on Keith Douglas’s “Dead Men”

“Dead Men” as a whole is less satisfying and less achieved than “Cairo Jag”, but the three opening stanzas are unforgettable:



Tonight the moon inveigles them
to love: they infer from her gaze
her tacit encouragement.
Tonight the white dresses and the jasmine scent
in the streets. I in another place
see the white dresses glimmer like moths. Come

to the west, out of that trance, my heart –
here the same hours have illumined
sleepers who are condemned or reprieved
and those whom their ambitions have deceived;
the dead men, whom the wind
powders till they are like dolls: they tonight

rest in … Continue Reading

Notes on Keith Douglas’s “Vergissmeinnicht”

It’s easy to see why “Vergissmeinnicht” is so much admired. Plain-spoken as it mostly is, it combines clarity with force, even before we get to the punchline, and the plain words are deployed with striking sensitivity in the shifting and combining of tones.


Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.

Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his … Continue Reading

Review – Alice Oswald, Falling Awake

Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. Cape Poetry, Jonathan Cape, 96pp. £10.00


One of my favourite poems in Falling Awake is the first, “A Short History of Falling”, with its lilting cadences and lovely musical returns of sound and idea:

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower

and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary

That’s like a fairytale, using a childlike simplicity of language to evoke vast, complicated  processes … Continue Reading

Review – Charles Baudelaire, Selected Poems from “Les Fleurs du Mal”, transl. Jan Owen

Owen declares that her aim was “to turn Baudelaire’s French poems into convincing English poems while keeping as close as I could to the original texts.” On the whole she seems to me to have succeeded very well in both aims. Her translations give real pleasure as a collection of poems in English. You don’t need to be able to read the French facing pages to receive a strong sense of Baudelaire’s power. If you can, of course, you’ll be in for pleasures that are probably simply beyond the reach of translation from French into relatively rhyme-poor English. In “Parfum … Continue Reading

Comparison of Jane Draycott’s and Simon Armitage’s translations of Pearl

You can read my essay, published in issue 5 of The High Window, by clicking here.

Review – Anna Wigley, Ghosts

Ghosts by Anna Wigley. Gomer Press, Llandysul, Ceredigion SA44 4JL. 66 pp. £9.99

In its strengths and limitations, Ghosts is at an opposite pole to Pilgrim Tongues and in some ways much more like The Silvering. Instead of dispersal we have a careful concentration of poetic resources. Whether they’re about animals or paintings, the earlier lives of the poet’s parents, the vitality and promise of the young or the illness and death of the old, these poems are exquisitely attuned to the senses, and Wigley has a particular talent for capturing living creatures in movement. However, where The Silvering … Continue Reading

Review – Pilgrim Tongues by Cliff Forshaw

Pilgrim Tongues by Cliff Forshaw, Wrecking Ball Press, Office 9, Danish Buildings, 44 – 46 High Street, Hull, East Yorks, HU1 1PS. 124 pp. £8.95.

Where Maura Dooley’s poetry is all laser-like concentration, Forshaw strides round the world, taking it on with drive, intelligence and humanity, scattering memorable phrases and ideas as he goes, but in a way that to my mind disperses rather than concentrating the energies of his writing. A number of poems in the first two sections, travelling from Hull through Cambodia, Vietnam and Israel, seemed closer to skilfully versified travelogue or foreign correspondent’s report than to … Continue Reading

Peter Hainsworth and David Robey, Dante: A Very Short Introduction – review

Peter Hainsworth and David Robey, Dante: A Very Short Introduction; OUP, £7.99, pbk, 144pp.

Hainsworth and Robey have to work within the limits of the Very Brief Introduction format. Their first pages rise brilliantly to the challenge. Swift-moving, decisive, sensitive and suggestive, plunging straight into a discussion of two famous encounters in the Inferno, and illustrating points with well-chosen references, this opening would have made me feel I knew why Dante’s ideas still matter, why he’s a giant among poets, and why people so praise his dramatic gifts in particular, even if I hadn’t read a word of him before.

Of course … Continue Reading

Prue Shaw, Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity – review

Prue Shaw, Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity; W. W. Norton, 398pp, hbk, £20.00;
ISBN 9780871407429
Published 29 April 2014

If I could recommend only one book on Dante it would be this one by Prue Shaw.

Her scholarship is profound and I think she must be a brilliant teacher: she shows an unusual ability to enter imaginatively into the minds of people who don’t have her knowledge. This book isn’t just “approachable”; it comes to meet you, seizes your hands and whisks you away to a glittering party where you’re involved in the conversation as if you were an old friend.

Shaw’s writing style … Continue Reading