Annie Freud, Hiddensee – review

Freighted with heavyweight literary, philosophical and artistic allusions, Annie Freud’s Hiddensee is very much an intellectual’s book and a work of rare intellectual range. The internationalism of Freud’s mind is suggested by the way Hiddensee includes not only the original texts of poems by the French Swiss poet Jacques Tornay, faced by Freud’s translations into English, but also a number of her own original poems in French and a poem in Italian (also translated into English) that seems to be hers too. Given talent and intelligence of her own, such high-powered internationalism of outlook is perhaps to be expected of … Continue Reading

Michael Vince, Long Distance – review

Michael Vince’s Long Distance is haunted by a sense of how old things live on in the present and the traces of dead things linger. This is particularly true in the first and third sections, set in England. Perhaps surprisingly, the second section, set in Greece, focuses mainly on what seems to be a single personal relationship in the present of the poems, and the fourth on glimpses of contemporary life, sometimes in England, sometimes in Greece.

‘What seems to be a single personal relationship.’ Vince appears committed to the idea that poetry should present itself objectively, however personal and subjective … Continue Reading

Fleur Adcock, The Mermaid’s Purse – review

Fleur Adcock, The Mermaid’s Purse, 80pp, £10.99, Bloodaxe Books Ltd

Fleur Adcock published her first collection in 1964 and has been honing her skills ever since. Her style has always been conversational but the voice of her poems has become ever suppler, more charged and agile. The poems of The Mermaid’s Purse combine radiantly evocative description with the relaxed rhythms of natural speech, changing tone and perspective rapidly to give the impression of a quick-minded person thinking as she speaks. The first stanza of ‘Island Bay’ is one example:

Bright specks of neverlastingness
float at me out of the blue air,
perhaps … Continue Reading

Carol Ann Duffy (ed) Empy Nest: Poems for Families – review

Empty Nest is perhaps a misleading title for Carol Ann Duffy’s wide-ranging little anthology because it suggests a strong emphasis on the sadder side of children’s growing up. The book does of course include poems poignantly expressing parents’ feelings of emptiness after their children’s departure, including the haunting title piece by the editor herself. Looking at flight from the nest from the opposite point of view, it includes others expressing children’s frustration with parents or home, their desire to escape into a wider world, or their nostalgia for what they’ve left behind. Thankfully, though, it also ranges much more widely. … Continue Reading

Pia Tafdrup, The Taste of Steel / The Smell of Snow – review

You can read my review of Pia Tafdrup’s The Taste of Steel / The Smell of Snow, translated by David McDuff and published by Bloodaxe Books, by clicking here.

Glyn Maxwell, How the Hell Are You – review

One obvious contrast between Hewitt and Maxwell is in their handling of personal life. However true or fictionalised they actually are, the autobiographical poems in Tongues of Fire seem extremely frank and direct in their revelations. Avowedly personal poems in How the Hell Are You are reserved and oblique, like ‘Daylight Saving’, an elegy for Maxwell’s father. This implies the poet’s continuing feeling of closeness to his dead father by imagining a meeting “in one of the fora / we wander together, / neither one literally here” to discuss the possible abolition of daylight saving. There are rather generically … Continue Reading

Seán Hewitt, Tongues of Fire – review

Tongues of Fire is finely honed in expression, unsettled and unsettling in content. It combines intellectual analysis with extreme sensuous alertness. There are many fine short poems on wild nature, including a series on the mythical Irish outlaw Suibhne. Beyond these, Hewitt uses metaphors both Christian and pagan – sometimes in startling ways – to suggest an almost religious reverence for life’s processes. However, such positive feelings have to maintain themselves against grief, pain and emotional conflict. Several poems deal with Hewitt’s father’s impending death by cancer. Others seem implicitly shadowed by it. Some explicitly present gay love and sexuality, … Continue Reading


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