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 poems curiously static. On the one hand they didn’t make me imagine an individual person speaking to me or living through a process of developing thought and feeling. Nor, on the other hand, did they give me a vivid sense of the insects themselves as living, moving creatures. This partly comes down to something technical. The poems rely very much on nouns and adjectives, making unusually frequent use of possessive phrases, as in the first lines of ‘Bits of a Grey Hawk Moth Cemented Together’:

Under a flapping dark thin plane
of wings;
a drawer of taut stiffened cloth; rigor mortis
in the shadow of the shadow of the room around the floor.

The only verbs in that sentence – not untypically – are participles, in other words verbs functioning like adjectives. Speaking of the poems generally, someone who really knows the insects they describe might find the descriptions magically accurate and evocative. I find them vivid and exciting on the level of sound and individual phrase but for me they don’t cohere in a strong sense of the presence, to use Constantine’s word, of the creatures they purport to present.

Sean Borodale, Inmates, 80pp, £10, Jonathan Cape, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA

I would like to thank Ann and Peter Sansom and Suzannah Evans for permission to post this extract from my review of books by John Glenday, David Constantine and Sean Borodale in issue 65 of The North.


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