Results of the Costa Book Award in the year 2007.
Jean Sprackland’s third collection describes a world in free-fall. Chaos and calamity are at our shoulder, in the shape of fire and flood, ice-storm and hurricane; trains stand still, zoos are abandoned, migrating birds lose their way—all surfaces are unreliable, all territories unmapped.
These are poems that explore the ambivalence and dark unease of slippage and collapse, but they also carry a powerful sense of the miraculous made manifest amongst the ordinary: the mating of natterjack toads, ice on the beach (‘dream stuff, with its own internal acoustic’) or ‘the fund of life’ in a used contraceptive. Bracken may run wild across the planet ‘waiting for the moment/to pounce on the accident/of the discarded match’ but there are also the significant wonders of children and the natural beauty of the world they’ve inherited. Tilt is a collection of raw, distressed and beautiful poems, a hymn to the remarkable survival of things in the face of threat—for every degradation an epiphany, for every drowning a birth.
Taking in its sights Matthew Arnold’s “land of dreams”, the collection explores the idealism and reality of a multicultural Britain with wit, intelligence and no small sense of mischief. Nagra, whose own parents came to England from the Punjab in the 1950s, conjures a jazzed hybrid language to tell stories of aspiration, assimilation, alienation and love, from a stowaway’s first footprint on Dover beach to the disenchantment of subsequent generations. By turns realist and romantic, these charged and challenging poems never shy from confrontation, but remain, always, touched by a humorous zeal and an appetite for living.
The Space of Joy is a sequence of poems that recounts the endless desire for love (and the failures and compromises that accompany that desire) in a number of writers and musicians who fatally prioritise their art. It begins with Petrarch, who created great lyric poetry out of an impossible infatuation, and moves through Coleridge’s self-induced guilt within domestic happiness, Matthew Arnold’s disbelief in mutual love, Brahm’s self-delusion and the complexities of Wallace Stevens’s marriage. It so happens that both Brahms and Arnold found themselves contemplating their art and their lives in the small Swiss town of Thun, and it is Thun that provides the setting for the wonderful concluding poem of this collections in which Fuller thinks back to his own boyhood and his parents’ marriage.
If there is any resolution in this sequence of magnificently playful and thought-provoking poems, it is the conviction that while ‘poetry may be the only heaven we have’, it is life itself that must create the ‘space of joy’ which art wishes to celebrate.
Ian Duhig’s The Speed of Dark is structured around his astonishing reworking of the text of Le Roman de Fauvel, a medieval text that railed against the corruption of the 12th-century French court and church. In Duhig’s hands, however, the tale of the power-mad horse-king Fauvel gains a terrifying and almost prophetic contemporary relevance, and is identified with more recent crusades, crazed ambitions and insatiable greeds. Elsewhere Duhig’s many admirers will be delighted by his new ballads and elegies, his erudite high jinks and his low gags—with which he builds on the new imaginative territory he staked out in The Lammas Hireling to such universal acclaim. The Speed of Dark again shows Duhig as one the most capacious and brilliant minds in contemporary poetry.