by Mann Sorescu ISBN
Marin Sorescu died from liver cancer on 8th December
1996. This remarkable collection was written, apart from two poems, in the
five weeks prior to his death. The dating of each piece makes his journey
out of life all the more poignant. Sorescu was an inventive, witty, subtle
and thoroughly absorbing writer. Adam Sorkin, in an introduction anyone
new to Sorescu with find very informative, speaks of him as
"dead-pan" and "wry". Sorescu's limpid, reserved style
permits him expression of his ironic, playful insights. A writer during
the communist years in Romania, he was highly skilled at suggesting what
couldn't be stated and the poems here are drenched in weary, oblique
amusement at the nature of being human. Nothing happens in this world
except matters of substance, bathed/ In indifference writes Sorescu in the
final lines of Elegy. The matter of substance is his own death. No-one
could be less self-dramatizing than Sorescu and it's his courageous escape
from egocentrism which allows his poems to shed such a clear light on
reality. That the particular facet of reality treated here is mortality
and specifically his own rapidly encroaching demise makes the poise of
these poems all the more admirable.
by Ken Smith ISBN 1-85224-670-7 £8.95
This collection contains twenty-five poems by Ken Smith,
some of his prose pieces, interviews with him about his life and work,
appreciations of his writing and five poems in his honour. It's a useful
collection for readers who want to find out about his life, his trajectory
in twentieth century poetry and to sample some of the poetry which made
him renowned. There's a funny prose poem, The 72 virgins question which
shows Smith's willingness to treat serious matters in a comic but telling
way and Bin laden is Ken Smith is in a similar vein. His writing seems to
spring vibrantly to life whenever its subject is his father, a
kick-against-the-pricks agricultural worker who was forced to move from
farm to farm, violently bad-tempered at times and an enduring influence on
Smith's character and imagination. Perhaps it's because whenever Smith
writes about him he's touching on a subject of such essential importance
that the casualness, the letting the material flow through him which he
saw as part of his practice is replaced by an intense focus. The prose
piece Nails, which is all about Smith's father, is for me the most
interesting of the poet's pieces in this book. Elsewhere he meditates on
various contemporary questions, including the Uncertainty Principle.
"We have come.....to the end of certainty about anything", he
asserts; a conclusion perhaps a little too certain for its own good. As I
said earlier, a useful collection both as a memorial and as an
introduction for those new to his writing.
COLLECTED LATER POEMS 1988-2000
by R.S.Thomas ISBN 1-85224-648-0 £9.95.
The earliest poems here were written when Thomas was in
his mid-seventies. The latest shortly before his death twelve years later.
They are all products of a vigorous mind. Christianity is at the centre of
Thomas's vision, yet he is beset by radical doubt. He listens for the
voice of god and wonders at the silence. He also writes with subtlety
about religion in an age of scientific thinking. There is the odd echo of
wet with the dry.
Chewing as much
as I bit off
When he ventures into obvious social or political
territory, he does so by the use of a memorable image:
On the skyline I have seen gantries
with their arms out awkwardly
as love and money trying to be reconciled.
Or combining this with his Christian belief:
The Nativity ? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence
Thomas, as his previous work testifies, is a poet of
extraordinary power and consistency. He never falters in his ability to
compose language to evoke an emotional-intellectual nexus full of a rich
sense of wisdom and maturity. This is a body of work which, produced over
a lifetime, would have made him a major world voice. To have written it in
the last years of a long life is evidence of his remarkable tenacity,
energy and hard work. If poetry is about the education of the emotions,
there is a complete education in this volume. An unmissable collection.
THE NIGHT OF AKHENATON
by Agnes Nemes Nagy ISBN 1-85224-641-3 £8.95
Nemes Nagy was one of Hungary's most respected twentieth
century poets. This selection, introduced and translated by George
Szirtes, includes work from her earliest years as a poet to her last years
(she died in 1991). At the end of the book is the Poet's Introduction,
written in 1980. Full of high insight into the nature of poetry, it
includes Nagy's explanation of the power of objects. Her work makes much
use of this power. She is alert to the dangers of abstraction, perhaps in
keeping with Stephen Dedalus's fear of the big words which make us so
Yet the selection is named after a revolutionary. The
great flowering of art which followed the changes instituted by Akhenaton
suggests Nagy was spiking the reactionary forces in her country.
And the tanks were already coming.
she writes in the title poem. She was banned by the
communists. "Only an ascendant flight" says Kundera,
"permits escape from our humiliation." Nagy rose into a poetry
of high principle. The poet, she believes, is the specialist of the
emotions. Recognizing that the major movements of twentieth century poetry
have made emotion peripheral or replaced it by a seemingly knowing irony,
she seeks to reproduce those nameless emotions which arise in so many
commonplace settings and which are lost because language is too crude, in
its commonplace usages, to seize them. There is something of Williams's
"no ideas but in things" about her approach. Anchored in a
physicality we all share, making use of the power of objects to evoke
memory and stir impulse, her poetry seeks the secure bases of our inner
life in a century in which all that was solid melted into air.
Nagy rejected the label of woman writer. Wisely, for she
writes for everyone and if her perspective is female, it is never narrowly
or tendentiously so.
Szirtes's introduction is informed and enlightening, if,
at times, a little inclined to excessive explication. Only the lucky few
who know Hungarian will be able to judge the quality of the translations.
POEMS OF LOVE & HATE
by Catullus Translated by Josephine Balmer
ISBN 1-85224-645-6- £8.95
Catullus provides a caution against literary hubris: his
work survived by a whisper. Fortunately. Apparently disappeared for
centuries, someone, somewhere must have been reading it. Josephine Balmer
has translated and assembled a telling selection of his work organised
into thirteen sections , written an erudite, entertaining introduction and
appended a fascinating set of notes. Her work is excellent. Familiar with
Catullus or otherwise, this collection should delight all poetry lovers.
Famed for his vulgarity, and there is plenty of bawdy and direct work
here, Catullus is much more than his reputation suggests. Witty, funny,
subtle, as capable of tenderness as virulence he ranges over the gamut of
human emotions. Balmer's title is utterly apt: Catullus is no simpering
romantic nor a foolish, ill-disciplined ranter. He can write very well
when he's angry with someone who's wronged him as he can spike in
carefully chosen words the pomposity, self-regard and manipulativeness of
the powerful. That work as good as this could very nearly disappear from
the literary landscape should make all those contemporary poets who hide
behind their reputations think twice. For the rest of us, it should make
us glad that someone somewhere is always willing to keep good writing
alive. Our sycophantic and infantilised age could benefit from a good
dose of Catullus. For those who don't already have him on their shelves,
this is an excellent selection.
A WAKE FOR THE LIVING
by Radmila Lazic ISBN 1-85224-659-6
Accepting the problem of lyric poetry, Radmila Lazic is
an interesting practitioner. The problem, of course, lies in lyric
poetry's direct line of descent from, among other precursors, "the
egotistical sublime". Today, the sublimity is difficult to discern.
The ghostly voice of Wordsworth seems to echo in too many poetic ears and
give rise to a poetry undoubtedly egotistical, but what else ? When
Hazlitt argued that Shakespeare is the least egotistical of writers, he
was pointing to Shakespeare's unwillingness to make his own mind the
measure of all things. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence in our ability
to know any reality beyond ourselves, combined with the not entirely
benign influence of Wordsworth, which accounts for an implicit conviction
that anything filtered through a sensibility which takes itself to be
poetic is sure to be interesting. What makes Lazic interesting is not her
much vaunted pugnacity ( stressing this quality is unfair to her as she
uses it as a technique, very knowingly, and is by no means as vulgar as
some of the hype about her writing might suggest ), but her ability to
begin in the personal yet reach far beyond it. There's a witty and ironic
poem entitled I'm An Old-Fashioned Girl in which, by revealing that she's
anything but, she pokes fun at changing fashions and an obsession with
surfaces. Apparently light, the poem challenges the way women have for too
long been defined from without. Convention, in male-dominated cultures,
falls especially heavily on women, but Lazic defies it in the name of the
individual's freedom to be different, even by making love to her
neighbour's husband if she chooses. Is this glib ? Is it the morality of
the spoilt children of contemporary Europe sinking in their barely
conscious post-modern assumption that no value is better than any other ?
Perhaps Lazic would like us to think so, for an instant. Goodness, if
written without irony, might be a shocking poem. Even worse, possibly a
stupid one. The goodness Lazic typifies as boring is, naturally,
self-conscious do-gooding engaged in primarily to draw attention to
oneself. Self-conscious badness is just as tedious. The truly evil don't
think they're evil, any more than the truly good think they're good. That
is what makes the truly evil so terrifying and the truly good so pleasant.
Lazic, however, is poking fun at the kind of people who trumpet their
goodness (in itself a minor evil) and endlessly point up the faults of
others. She prefers to admit her own faults (in itself a minor good) and
in the final stanza gives the game away:
"I'm sensitive,my love, like a pregnant bitch."
She is, after all, only protecting herself and her final "growl at
everyone" gives the impression that being growled at by Lazic might
have something to recommend it. Twilight Metaphysics shows that those who
make too much of Lazic's attack, neglect her capacity for negative
capability and Come And Lie Next To Me is an excellent little poem about
the relationship between the personal and the public and our indefeasible
need for physical closeness. There isn't a dull poem amongst those
collected here and several which deserve to endure. The translations are
by Charles Simic, born in Lazic's native Serbia.
LOVE AT THE FULL
by Lucien Becker
Translated by Christopher Pilling
Flambard ISBN 1-873226-61-6 £7.95.
Lucien Becker is rare among poets for having worked half
a lifetime as a policeman. He was born in 1911 and died in 1984. Rene
Chyar published his first poems when Becker was only eighteen. His early
work showed a surrealist influence and Breton published some in 1930. Yet
surrealism was not to be his tendency. He went silent for seven years and
when he reappeared he had swung to the opposite pole: Je tends a un degree
zero de 1'ecriture, he famously wrote. This was to set Roland Barthes
searching for the disappearing narrator, but more importantly, Becker was
an influence on Camus, not only in the astringent nature of his style, but
also in the existential colour of his vision. Becker's work is full of
that recognition, so dear to Camus and Sartre, of the discrepancy between
the universe's lack of meaning and our insistent seeking after it.
Becker's answer to what Camus called le silence deraissonable du monde was
to find in nature, but especially in sexual love, a fascination which
could overcome his sense of estrangement. As Aragon put it: L 'amour, c
'est d 'abord partir de soi-meme. Becker seemed to find in that
self-escape his essential consolation. Writing degree zero is perhaps the
only way to convey that paradoxical sense of finding identity by losing
For those able to read fluently in French, this volume
presents no problem. For readers who will rely on the translations,
however, things may not be so straightforward, especially if this is their
first encounter with Becker. Christopher Pilling is an accomplished
translator, but translations are perilous, especially in poetry. Let's not
evoke Voltaire's famous dictum about beauty and fidelity, but there are
points at which, it seems to me, Pilling's translations may mislead
readers whose French is shaky. One or two examples:
On decouvre parfois un passant
qui, sans chercher d'ou il vient,
se desespere de ne pouvoir faire sien
le visage dont il s'eprend.
My rendering would go like this:
Sometimes you come across a passer-by
who, without finding out where he's from,
despairs of not being able to make his own
the face he's smitten by.
You sometimes come across a lone
passer-by, who, without you knowing where
he's from, is so in despair
that he can't have the face he's falling for for his own.
Why the "lone" ? There is nothing to suggest
that in the original except the article. Why not just stick with the
English article ? And why move "passer-by" to the second line ?
Then, "without you knowing where he's from", removes the
ambiguity of Becker's line. In the original, the sense is strange, as if
the passerby himself doesn't know where he's from. But the "il"
may mean "it". Perhaps it's a forward reference to le
visage" That would make perfect sense. Of course, the ambiguity is
in-built in the French because of the dual meaning of the subject pronoun,
it's impossible to hit so simply in English.
Some renderings seem to me to be simply wrong. For
La terre a fait de 1'homme
une plante sans racines ni cime
Pilling translates this as:
The land has made of man
a rootless and topless plant
Translating "la terre" as "The land"
robs the lines of their existential dimension. La terre means the earth.
Surely that's what Becker is evoking ?
There are several examples of this kind. My feeling is
that if I didn't know French well enough to read the original, I'd have a
very different sense of what Becker is about. That's a pity. He's a
marvellously original and rich poet. Might it not have been worthwhile to
have had the English versions read by a native speaker of French familiar
with Becker and fluent in English ? An informed second opinion might have
weeded out some of the questionable renderings. All the same, Becker is an
excellent poet with a fascinatingly un-English sensibility.
THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
by Ambrose Bierce
Bloomsbury ISBN 0-7475-6967-3
Did Ambrose Bierce know Flaubert's Dictionnaire des Idees
Recues ? Born in 1842, it seems likely that Bierce would at least have
heard of it. Bierce, like Flaubert, is a delightful, amusing, sometimes
hilarious, wise misanthrope. In both men, however, the misanthropy is a
disguise; they spike the commonplace idiocies that rob life of its beauty,
joy and grandeur. They are misanthropes only in their awareness of
humanity's gross failure to realize the potential they had the courage to
imagine. There is a biographical work on Bierce entitled, Alone In Bad
Company. But Bierce is marvelous company. Nothing is more uplifting then
pessimism, just as nothing is quite so depressing as the ravings of an
optimist. Bierce's lack of illusions make him highly attractive and behind
his misanthropy there sits, as has often been observed, a disappointed
idealist. Bierce fought for the Union cause between 1861 and 1865. He was
wounded at Kenesaw Mountain, a bullet lodging behind his left ear. One of
his most famous stories is based on his experiences at Chickamauga and it
seems likely that the viciousness of war, its lunatic excess as a means of
settling disputes, was one source of his unflinchingly scathing view of
the enduring failure to recognize interest as such and so diminish its
power to devastate. Bierce was only too ready to acknowledge the essential
interestedness of our motivations. He exhibited a plain man's unapologetic
acceptance of this most straightforward of facts. The Devil's Dictionary
is partly a plea that we renounce our unconvincing denials and
confabulations and by ceasing to pretend we are gods, learn to live like
people. A need or desire acknowledged, he often seems to be saying, knows
its limits; a need or desire denied, finds its way back into our
consciousness as inordinate greed, possessiveness or violence.
Like all knowing cynics, that is, those whose cynicism is
a consciously preferred device, Bierce is very funny. The true cynic, he
or she, that is, who believes himself or herself to be superior or
virtuous or as far removed from cynicism as it is possible to be, is never
funny and always dangerous. Bierce is a danger only to the pompous, the
powerful, the ignorant, the vicious and the self-deceiving. The Devil's
Dictionary was originally titled The Cynic's Word Book, gaining its new
title when Bierce put together the twelve-volume edition of his collected
works. It is made up of amusing, witty, subversive definitions of terms
carefully chosen for their customarily cliched interpretation. His
definition of telephone is most welcome to anyone who has been subjected
in a public place to loud announcements into a mobile of the state of the
speaker's bank balance, the colour of their underwear or the success of
surgery on their haemorrhoids:
Telephone, n An invention of the devil which abrogates
some of the advantages-of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
Funny, elegant, restrained, high-minded; typical Bierce.
He was a journalist and short story writer well-known for his low opinion
of realism, which he defines thus:
Realism, n The art of depicting nature as it is seen by
toads. The charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole or a story
written by a measuring-worm.
And the first part of his definition of reality is
perfectly in keeping:
Reality, n The dream of a mad philosopher.
Bierce was an advocate of the imagination. No point
pretending that reality arrives ready-made. There is no means to detach
reality, not simply from our perception of it, but from our construction
of it through our imagining.
When it came to politics and religion, Bierce was
Politics, n A strife of interests masquerading as a
contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private
Little wonder that he defined an expression of the
popular will as follows:
' Plebiscite, n A popular vote to ascertain the will of
That Bierce wrote this when democracy was yet in its
infancy suggests percipience about the manipulations that permit elites to
turn so-called popular democracy into a smoke-and -mirrors vaudeville
Religion, n A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to
Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
Christian, n ...............One who follows the teachings
of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
In the latter of the two above you can see how Bierce
escapes that universal human tendency to believe one's own rhetoric.
Perhaps there is some quirk of the mind (or brain) by which the gate of
delusion is unlatched simply by the invocation of terms which imply a
virtue which is forever beyond us. It's reminiscent of Emma Bovary's
schoolgirlish longing for a man who, so the narrator mocks her, should be
vertueux comme on ne l’est pas (as virtuous as one isn't).
I suppose some pious Christians might be offended by
Bierce's definition, and in these times of political correctness his
direct acceptance of the laughable and tragic flaws in our nature might be
thought offensive. Of course, he is offensive to anyone who thinks himself
a fount of wisdom or certainty or rectitude. But to any sane, alive, happy
person, he couldn't cause the least offence for behind the bitterness is
too much humour, gentleness and good-nature. Read superficially, Bierce is
nothing but a cynic, but such a reading would be illiterate.
In these times of manic self-promotion when a stoic
resistance to the present and courageous acceptance of the enduring
difficulties of being human are unfashionable, it's a tonic to read a
writer who stared unflinchingly at the awful facts of human nature but who
never lost his sense of proportion or humour and behind whose apparent
cynicism lay a great compassion towards human suffering. In this, there is
much in Bierce that prefigures Beckett, another writer who is often
thought of as unremittingly bleak, but who tempers his searing vision with
subtle humour and pity.
At the age of seventy-one, Bierce took off for the
Mexican revolution and was never heard of again. He is believed to have
died in battle on llth January 1914.
The entries in this volume are illustrated by the
ever-inventive Ralph Steadman. Bierce couldn't have wished for better
visual accompaniment. Steadman's anarchic style complements hilariously
Bierce's highly individual perceptions. The book is beautifully produced
and small enough to fit in a decent-sized pocket so you can take it with
you on journeys and dip into it when the fool next to you on the train
takes out a mobile and, in thrall to the technology, does violence to the
elementary rules of human sociability.
POEMS by James Clarence
Mangan,The Gallery Press, ISBN
1-85235-345-7 13.90 euros.
1803-1849, the much-neglected Mangan is an interesting
figure. This is a superb selection with a fine introduction by David
TWENTY POETS FROM ARGENTINA
Translated by Andrew
Graham-Yool, Redbeck Press, ISBN 1-904338-18-6 £8.95.
As soon as you begin reading, you know what's missing
from British poetry. The sensibilities behind these poems are broad, open,
tinged with tragedy or at least its possibility, striving against
inwardness yet full of inward richness. A brilliant collection. Just the
kind of book to sweep through the cobwebbed attics of our native practice
and remind us of the world beyond us. It's difficult to pin down just how
it works, but from their first words these writers are dealing with the
difficult fact of separation, so different from the search for blending
which permeates English writing. Recent research suggests different
languages shape the brain physically in different ways. Read the Spanish.
Change your consciousness. A first-rate collection.
THE NEW GIRLS by Sue Dymoke, Shoestring Press, ISBN
A welcome full-length collection after five pamphlets.
The best poem here, for me, is CALCULATING HISTORY. It combines reserve
and clarity with a sense of the enormity of the events which form the
backdrop to modem lives. LAST SUPPERS too brings close the commonplaces we
all know so well and the commonplace evil which takes our breath away. Sue
Dymoke is also very good at evoking the particularities of the personal
and making them resonate into the space we share.
THE WEIGHT OF COWS by Mandy Coe, Shoestring Press, ISBN
Staring For Beginners, Becoming Short Sighted, the tides
point the direction. Intelligently funny. Mandy Coe lives in Liverpool,
maybe she hails from the city, in any case she has a Scouse sense of
humour. There is seriousness here too and a technique clearly gleaned from
a diligent familiarity with modern poetry. The title poem deals nicely
with the way the laws of the universe strike us in the most ordinary
things. A revealing insight delicately handled
SUDDEN MARASCHINOS by Jacqueline Karp, Redbeck Press,
ISBN 1-904338-13-5 £6.95
Clear writing which often comes at its subject from an
unexpected angle. Interesting in the way it draws on many European
influences and a memorable way with images.
TAKE FIVE Shoestring Press ISBN 1 -899549-90-0 £7.95
The five in question are Ann Atkinson, Michael
Bartholomew-Biggs, Malcolm Carson, George Parfitt, Deborah Tyler-Bennett.
A thought-provoking variety of voices. Enough room for each poet to get a
sense of how they work and what's important to them. Carson has a
quotation from King Lear as an epigraph: The art of our necessities is
strange/And can make vile things precious. A reminder that poetry is most
penetrating when it touches on the baffling realities of our psychology.
There are moments when all five achieve it.
PASTORAL by Philip Callow. Shoestring Press, ISBN 1
904886 m. £8.95.
the words extravagant and surging
as the young's often are
writes Philip Callow of Lawrence's letters from Gargnano,
and extravagance and surge are absent from this collection. In their place
come measure, poise, the experienced weighing of the
precise force of a word. Callow has nothing to prove as a poet and no axe
to grind; he
writes from long struggle with language and circumstance
in the way that only an old master can. In a time that venerates
immaturity it is a relief
and delight to encounter the skill, composure, wisdom and
sheer technical accomplishment of a writer whose work exudes the calming
maturity. Quite why no major publisher has seen fit to
bring out this volume is a mystery. Their loss is the small presses gain,
one more piece
of evidence that much of the best writing is produced and
published far from the metropolitan elite. No wonder they talk of
has worked so hard at his writing that his feel for what
is right is second nature. Time and again he pinpoints a common experience
language uncommonly combined. A truly memorable
collection surely one of the very best of 2004 which enhances Callow's
already high and
fully deserved reputation.
AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH by Katherine Banner, Mudfog Press, The
Stables, Stewart Park, The Grove, Marton, Middlesbrough,
TS7 8AR.ISBN 1-899503-59-5 £6.
Katherine Banner is a poet of great intelligence, subtle
humour and modesty. I suppose Don Paterson would call her an amateur, as
poetry doesn't make her a living. But she has that in common with Emily
Dickinson so we perhaps we should pause a moment before we
"eradicate" all poets in her predicament Predicament it is, for
like all the amateurs, she must write in the interstices while Mr Paterson
has universes of time at his disposal, being professional. All the same,
I'd just as well read Katherine Banner as Don Paterson. There's a gentle,
knowing smile behind many of her poems and she never wears her cleverness
like a badge, but she can ease an insight into life and create that lovely
moment of recognition which arises when a poet has successfully negotiated
the space between herself and the reader. Amateur only in not making a
living but in her technique and commitment, thoroughly professional. But
amateur in the best sense too: a lover of poetry. She understands its
essential concern with posterity and rises to the demand. Some of the
poems here deserve to endure. They will, Mr Paterson notwithstanding.
COMRADE LAUGHTER by Andy Croft. Flambard ISBN
Andy Croft prefaces this collection with a quotation from
Marx which is full of that writer's boldness, erudition, delight in
learning and ideas. Andy Croft delights in language and ideas too. He has
been described as a "rhyme machine" , yet his rhymes aren't
mechanical. He can surprise by the unusualness of his lexis. What lies
behind his rhyming is almost certainly a desire to connect. Rhyme is one
of the ways of making language memorable and Andy Croft knows what he's up
against: the difficulty of poets who fear the contagion of popular liking
for poetry. Kenneth Rexroth once expressed the view that Georges Brassens
is one of the best poets of twentieth century France. Brassens specialised
in catchy lyrics, robust melodies and a down-to-earth view of things which
gave him great appeal. Andy Croft has something of this. He is a minstrel
of poetry who wants to sing a common song. Yet there isn't much to
celebrate. The defeat of socialism provides him with his title. Still, in
keeping the spirit of socialism alive he is echoing Irving Howe:
"Whatever the fate of socialism, the yearning for a better mode of
life which found expression in its thought and its struggle will reappear.
Of that I am absolutely certain." And that from America. The
sensibility at work in this book is full of the dark laughter of defeat,
the understanding that the meritocratic excuse for capitalism makes the
disaffection necessary for resistance to the present, the short route to
marginalisation and failure. Andy Croft's resistance finds expression in a
strong sense of the social quite at odds with the prevailing cynical
dismissal of everything social as naive, outdated and hopeless. He works
hard to celebrate the fact of the social nature of our identity against
the odds of a culture which aggressively proposes the phoney identity of
the sociopathic. If you want to read a very clever poet refusing to show
off his cleverness (perhaps Don Paterson would dismiss him as an amateur
for that), connecting with things that matter, making you laugh while
dealing with the deadly serious, than take a look at Alchemical a
thirty-one verse tour de force and one of the best pieces in this very
good collection, Andy Croft has refused to comply with the modes of modern
writing ( to coin a phrase) as steadfastly as he has refused to submit to
the tawdry blandishments and inauthentic, confabulated selfhoods of a
culture which hides soft-fascistic reaction behind empty terms like
modernisation. Karl Marx's favourite novelist was Diderot who knew what
Don Paterson doesn't: that the person of genius needs a social setting in
which to flourish. It's the many enthusiastic amateurs who uphold a
culture which allows genius to shine. Eliminate the amateurs and you'll
eliminate the geniuses too. Diderot also gave a wise response to the
question of why he committed himself to writing which brought him such
opprobrium: because to know you will be judged well by posterity is a
present pleasure. Something our wretchedly time-serving culture has almost
completely forgotten, "....humanity should part with its past
cheerfully" wrote Marx. Andy Croft helps to keep us cheerful while he
puts his faith in the only thing that matters to a real writer; posterity.
It will judge him well, whatever today's pseudo-sophisticated
metropolitans may think.
SLIPSTREAM by Jeremy Hilton, Ripostes, Casella postale
135 -84100 Salerno, Italy.£7.50
Jeremy Hilton says that his poetry has more in common
with contemporary music than poetry and this collection is certainly foil
of musicality. There's a series of seventeen stanzas called breath
sentences written in seven syllable lines, beautifully sustained and
peppered with interesting surprises. One of the satisfying facets of this
book is its inclusion of long poems. The architecture of a longer poem
gives it an appeal which shorter, lyric pieces can't always match. This
isn't to suggest superiority of the longer form, simply that its
difference stimulates the mind and its relative scarcity tends to make it
intriguing. The first poem is six pages long and deals with the place of
children in history. It builds steadily and quietly evokes the sense of
the relationship between the fact of childhood and the facts of our
history. Jeremy Hilton has the knack of conjuring a nexus of ideas and
values through very economic means: a date, a place name. He also knows
how to site a question for maximum effect.
who are you out there ?
can you hear our song ?
song of the lost children of memory is an excellent,
memorable poem, for me, the best of this collection. Jeremy Hilton has
been writing for a long time. His body of work is impressive. He also
edits the fine magazine Fire. No doubt, in Don Paterson's view, just
another back-of-a-beermat amateur. But without people like him poetry
would collapse. Another very strong collection from a small press and a
poet who deserves the support of the small band of voluntary readers of