* You are viewing the archive for January, 2014

Pluto by Glyn Maxwell. Picador Poetry, 64 pp., £9.99

Maxwell is a dedicated formalist like Polley, and shares his strong sense of time’s attrition.

One poem on this theme struck me as pretty well perfect, so graceful  in expression, so complex and delicate in feeling that I’m afraid to bruise it by analysis:


It has asked to be treated like all the other days.
Not to be beamed at in assembly,
winked at, singled out for praise,
parted for or crowded round, not to be
starred or handed a badge or in obvious ways

made something of. In no uncertain terms
did it say no gifts, no cake, no … Continue Reading

The Havocs by Jacob Polley. Picador Poetry, 64 pp., £9.99

In metre, language, subject matter and genre, the poems of The Havocs are deeply and consciously rooted in many centuries of tradition. One of the finest is a translation / adaptation of “The Ruin” from the Old English Exeter Manuscript. Strikingly successful poems use the techniques of the Old English riddle, while others, such as “Langley Lane” and “The Bridge”, evoke the spirit and style of the Border ballads, or, like “Following the River”, of the dream vision poems so popular in the middle ages. Throughout the book, I found myself enjoying the shapeliness of Polley’s constructions, the virtuosity with … Continue Reading

Matthew Francis, Muscovy, 80 pp, £12.99 hardback, Faber and Faber

I loved Muscovy for its variety, and for a playfulness of spirit that has its own gravity. In the first poem, based on a seventeenth century tale describing a flight to the moon, the narrator tells us

The moon rested on the mountain, rock on rock –
you might step from one to the other

and indeed he does fly to the moon in an elaborate contraption drawn by geese. Revelling in the exotic and the fantastical, Francis leads us easily from world to world and time to time. In “Things That Make the Heart Beat Faster”, based on The Pillow … Continue Reading

Robin Robertson, Hill of Doors, 96 pp, £9.99 paperback, Picador.

Hill of Doors is packed with fine individual poems, highly varied in form, theme and style, though continually picking up motifs familiar from Robertson’s earlier work.  Contrasts of landscape heighten the sense of imaginative range. Scottish settings full of water and mist are opposed by luminous Mediterranean scenes and by the barren desert of “Wire”, an outstanding haiku sequence set on the Mexican – US border. These settings draw the poems together, both by similarity and contrast. As different strands develop, they’re often associated with different kinds of landscape. There’s a Christian strand, starting with a lovely meditation on Fra … Continue Reading