Pindar’s Odes

The introduction to Andrew M. Miller’s translation of Pindar’s Odes[1] tells us that he is ‘generally reckoned the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece’. I don’t think many non-Classicists read him now, though he, or the idea of the Pindaric, had a huge influence on poetry in different European languages over centuries in which Sappho was barely a name. Nowadays, positions are reversed: only crumbs of Sappho’s work survive, but her fragments are much translated and widely loved. Her brilliance was acclaimed in her own day, of course, but it seems to me that for later generations the … Continue Reading

Hugo Williams, Lines Off – review

In different ways, Edge, Afterwardness and Flèche are all written in overtly poetic forms and styles. Williams, too, writes with polished skill in his Lines Off, but achieves the hallucinatory vividness of his poems with an art so understated as to seem almost artless, except for the symmetrical patterns the poems fall into.

Understatement reaches an extreme in this stanza from ‘St Pancras Old Church and Hospital’, one of many poems presenting Williams’s experience of kidney dialysis and a life-saving transplant:


I passed my days
lying down with a machine,
till someone unknown to me died
and allowed me to … Continue Reading

Mary Jean Chan, Fleche – review

Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche describes the speaker’s struggle to assert her gay sexual orientation despite social prejudice and her mother’s horror. This story is interwoven with themes of cultural change and intercultural migration as the poet travels from Hong Kong to America and England. The whole book is framed by metaphors drawn from the sport of fencing – flèche itself and the section titles ‘Parry’, ‘Riposte’ and ‘Corps-à-Corps’. A more deeply imagined inner structure lies in a series of accounts of eating, drinking and cooking that runs through it, and particularly in an implicit parallel between Chan’s gnawing erotic need … Continue Reading

Mimi Khalvati, Afterwardness – review

Under her light touch, each of Mimi Khalvati’s 56 sonnets evolves in a spontaneous-seeming way, like something between intimate speech and thinking aloud. Within her favoured form – two quatrains rhyming on alternate lines followed by two triplets which rhyme in various ways across the triplet division – she makes skilful use of different kinds of half rhyme, so full rhyme comes and goes as if naturally, rather than being a formal given.

The arc of the book reflects the course of the poet’s own life, starting with her exile from Iran and family at six, the loss of her mother … Continue Reading

Katrina Porteous, Edge – review

Katrina Porteous’s Edge tries to digest the most abstruse science into poetic form.

I found it thrilling. There’s no self in it, and almost no people, but it doesn’t feel inhuman because Porteous uses different forms of personification so much. She opens with an account of the poems’ genesis and closes with scientific notes. These I sometimes found interesting, sometimes indigestible. The poems themselves are in three sections. ‘Field’ explores the quantum physics underlying all reality – science of a kind incomprehensible to most of us; ‘Sun’ meditates on our sun, and ‘Edge’ focuses on our own moon and some of … Continue Reading

Yorgos Theotokas, Leonis – novel and poem

I’ve recently reread Yorgos Theotokas’s Leonis for the first time in years. How odd it is as a novel, and at the same time, how compelling. Both the oddity and the power come from the book’s extreme compression, and from its being in some ways less like a novel than a long narrative poem in prose.

Sadly, it isn’t on the rather short list of modern Greek books that have gained currency in English, though I gather there is a translation. In brief outline, Leonis – the hero – starts as a little Greek boy in Istanbul or Constantinople – or … Continue Reading

Peter Huchel, translated by Martyn Crucefix, These Numbered Days – review


PN Review subscribers can read the review which appeared in PN Review 254 by clicking here.


Christopher Reid, A Scattering and Anniversary – review

My review in PN Review 153, but it’s only fully available to subscribers:

A New Divan – review

A New Divan celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of Goethe’s great West-Eastern Divan in which the poet expresses both a personal sense of creative renewal and his love of Middle Eastern poetry, particularly that by the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz.

In A New Divan, twelve major poets from the ‘East’ and twelve from the ‘West’ were each commissioned to write on one of twelve themes in Goethe’s collection. Only Khaled Mattawa and Don Paterson wrote in English. Other poems appear in both English and their language of composition. The English versions are by poets, usually working from someone else’s literal … Continue Reading

The Rain Barrel by Frank Ormsby – review

‘Untroubled’, the first poem in The Rain Barrel, is a kind of brief resume of the whole volume, and also I think one of its best poems. It stands out both for the speed with which it makes the mind move and for the way that even as it does so it sustains a powerful sensation of stillness, of remembered domestic serenity suspended between a remote violent past and violence to come:


Caesar is flattening Gaul
by the light of our Tilley.
My father has slept
with his mouth open
since the beginning of the war.
My mother is on a cleaning campaign
in the … Continue Reading