David Harsent, A Broken Man in Flower: Versions of Yannis Ritsos – review


Here’s a link to my London Grip review of this fine book. With thanks to the Poetry Reviews editor, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs:


London Grip Poetry Review – David Harsent

Sean O’Brien, It Says Here – review

I’d like to start by quoting the fine short poem ‘Names’ from O’Brien’s new book It Says Here. If just saying it aloud enchants you as much as it does me then this is a book you should buy:

Ravenspur, Ravensrodd, Ravenser Odd,
Salt-heavy bells heard only by God.

Drink to the lost and the longshore drift:
When there is nothing the names will be left.

It’s reminiscent of Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Merlin’ in its particular elegiac feeling and tune, but the names it refers to aren’t literary in the way those in Hill’s poem are (‘Arthur, Elaine, Mordred, they are all … Continue Reading

Marvell, The Picture of Little T C in a Prospect of Flowers

See with what simplicity
This nymph begins her golden days!
In the green grass she loves to lie


It’s impossible to pin down what makes the first three lines of Marvell’s ‘The Picture of Little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers’ such a magical fusion of tenderness, delicacy and radiant energy. It’s something to do with the degree to which different beauties of the writing breathe life into each other.

One such beauty is the sheer lightness and sophisticated simplicity of the poet’s metrical, phonetic and syntactical fingering. Sounds and rhythmic contours melt into or swell out of each other smoothly, … Continue Reading

Andrew Marvell’s The Mower to the Glow-Worms

The Mower to the Glow-Worms

Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the summer night,
Her matchless songs does meditate;

Ye country comets, that portend
No war nor prince’s funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Than to presage the grass’s fall;

Ye glow-worms, whose officious flame
To wand’ring mowers shows the way,
That in the night have lost their aim,
And after foolish fires do stray;

Your courteous lights in vain you waste,
Since Juliana here is come,
For she my mind hath so displac’d
That I shall never find my home.


I’d like to try to explain … Continue Reading

Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A New Translation by C. Luke Soucy – review

Ovid’s vast mythological anthology is one of the outstanding achievements of literary history. It’s both a perennial inspiration to later artists and a delight to multitudes who only come across a handful of its stories. As Soucy puts it in his introduction, ‘Ovid’s irreverent Roman epic has done more even than the works of Hesiod and Homer to codify what has become known as “Greek” mythology.’ Reworkings of individual tales still keep coming out, showing how deeply they’re embedded in popular culture, how widely they’re known, how immediately they’re recognisable as reference points, both resonant with many-layered associations and shaped … Continue Reading

Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding … Continue Reading

Philip Gross, The Thirteenth Angel – review

Allowing for density of print, The Thirteenth Angel probably contains well over twice as many words as O’Brien’s Embark. Its fertility in ideas, images and perceptions is almost breath-taking. So is the vivid precision of its language of physical description. The world it presents is above all crowded with movement.  This is a part of the experience of modern life that Gross captures brilliantly. Glittering details seem to leap off every page. Looking down at a road at night the poet sees ‘the cold blush of blue / on a cheek: stranger, her mobile tingling / with presence.’ He … Continue Reading

Sean O’Brien’s Embark – review

In Embark, Sean O’Brien deftly shifts between registers and tones to present and think about the world in different ways. In his elegies, melancholy recollection is expressed in a way that combines elegance with conversational intimacy. Other poems are more obviously highly wrought, like ‘Of the Angel’ with its archaic-sounding title. This describes a boy at a Remembrance Day ceremonial –

The poor mad angel boy of twelve
With the unblinking gold-green stare
And the frightening permanent smile

That should be love but cannot be
Is brought by his mother to join the crowd.

That opening already trembles between the mundane and … Continue Reading

Sean O’Brien, Impasse for Jules Maigret – review



Click on the title Impasse for Jules Maigret for a link to my review, with thanks to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs and the London Grip where it appears.

Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

Jane Draycott is the reverse of a confessional poet, or even a poet whose persona is one of affable conversational candour. To me, the pleasures she offers are more deeply engaging. In all her books, many of her best poems are haunting, haunted-seeming traps for meditation, full of sidesteps, ellipses and paradoxically intense evocations of absence. The proportion of such poems seems particularly high in this one. Some are enigmatic, others more straightforward. Either way, they seize the imagination by the clarity and economy of their phrasing, the poise of their rhythms and a strange, nervy tautness that gives every … Continue Reading