Among the poems that open Night, David Harsent’s follow-up to his Forward Prize-winning collection “Legion”, is a startling sequence about a garden—but a garden unlike any other. It sets the tone for a book in which the sureties of daylight become uncertain: dark, unsettling narratives about what wakes in us when we escape our day-lit selves to visit a place where the dream-like and the nightmarish are never far apart. The book culminates in the seductive and brilliantly-sustained ‘Elsewhere’, a noirish, labyrinthine quest-poem in which the protagonist is drawn ever onward through a series of encounters and reflections like an after-hours Orpheus, hard-bitten and harried by memory.
Corpus—Michael Symmons Roberts’ ambitious and inventive fourth collection—centres around the body. Mystical, philosophical and erotic, the bodies in these poems move between different worlds—life and after-life, death and resurrection—encountering pathologists’ blades, geneticists’ maps and the wounds of love and war. Equally at ease with scripture (Jacob wrestling the Angel in “Choreography”) and science (“Mapping the Genome”), these poems are a thrilling blend of modern and ancient wisdom, a profound and lyrical exploration of the mysteries of the body:
So the martyrs took the lamb.
It tasted rich, steeped in essence
Of anchovy. They picked it clean…[more]
Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.
See how the true gift never leaves the giver…
—from “Waking with Russell”
Hailed for its “enormous skill and verve” (The Guardian) and its “seriousness and moral urgency” (The Independent), Landing Light is one of the most important and resonant poetry collections to come out of Britain in recent years. Ceaselessly inquiring, Don Paterson discovers the love of a son, a talking book, the voices of a wreckage left in the black box. In traditional forms, short lyrics, and long narratives, Paterson has crafted—with precision and passion—his most accomplished and spiritual collection.
Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes (1930-98) is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work has mythic scope and power. And few episodes in postwar literature have the legendary stature of Hughes’s romance with, and marriage to, the great American poet Sylvia Plath.
The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exceptions) to Plath, and were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections and ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath’s time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work—animal, vegetable, mythological—as well as on Plath’s famous verse.
Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume—at last—offers us Hughes’s own account. Moreover, it is a truly remarkable collection of pems in its own right.
Showing O’Brien at the height of his powers, with his intellect and imagination as gratifyingly restless as ever, this collection is haunted by the missing, the missed, the vanished, the uncounted, and the uncountable lostlost sleep, connections, muses, books, and the ghosts and gardens of childhood. Ultimately, the poet is led to contemplate the most troubling absences: O’Brien’s elegies for his parents and friends form the heart of this book, and are the source of its pervasive note of départ. Elsewhereas if a French window stood open to an English roomthe islands, canals, railway stations, and undergrounds of his landscape are swept by a strikingly Gallic air. This new note lends these recent poems a reinvigorated sense of the imaginative possible.
The Overhaul is Kathleen Jamie’s first collection since the award-winning The Tree House, and it broadens her poetic range considerably. The Overhaul continues Jamie’s lyric enquiry into the aspects of the world our rushing lives elide, and even threaten. Whether she is addressing birds or rivers, or the need to accept loss, or sometimes, the desire to escape our own lives, her work is earthy and rigorous, her language at once elemental and tender. As an essayist, she has frequently queried our human presence in the world with the question ‘How are we to live?’ Here, this is answered more personally than ever. The Overhaul is a mid-life book of repair, restitution, and ultimately hope—of the wisest and most worldly kind.
The Bees is Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of new poems as Poet Laureate, and the much-anticipated successor to the T. S. Eliot Prize-winning Rapture. After the intimate focus of the earlier book, The Bees finds Duffy using her full poetic range: there are drinking songs, love poems, poems to the weather, poems of political anger; her celebrated ‘Last Post’ (written for the last surviving soldiers to fight in the First World War) showed that powerful public poetry still has a central place in our culture. There are elegies, too, for beloved friends, and—most movingly—the poet’s own mother. As Duffy’s voice rises in this collection, her music intensifies, and every poem patterns itself into song.
Woven and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem, or hovers at its edge—and the reader soon begins to anticipate its appearance. In the end, Duffy’s point…[more]
Lucinda Gane, Christopher Reid’s wife, died in October 2005. A Scattering is his tribute to her and consists of four poetic sequences, the first written during her illness, and the other three at intervals after her death. A Scattering is described by Adam Newey in The Guardian as “A beautiful book... [that] performs the miracle of bringing the dead back to life.”
Seamus Heaney’s new collection starts “In an age of bare hands and cast iron” and ends as “The automatic lock / clunks shut” in the eerie new conditions of a menaced twenty-first century. In their haunted, almost visionary clarity, the poems assay the weight and worth of what has been held in the hand and in the memory. Images out of a childhood spent safe from the horrors of World War II—railway sleepers, a sledgehammer, the “heavyweight / Silence” of “Cattle out in rain”—are colored by a strongly contemporary sense that “Anything can happen,” and other images from the dangerous present—a journey on the Underground, a melting glacier—are fraught with this same anxiety.
But District and Circle, which includes a number of prose poems and translations, offers resistance as the poet gathers his staying powers and stands his ground in the hiding places of love and excited language. In a sequence like “The Tollund…[more]
The new collection from one of the best new talents in contemporary poetry Paul Farley’s debut collection: The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You was one of the most highly acclaimed in recent years. It won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection;a Somerset Maugham Award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award. In 1999 he was named as the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. His collection was described as ‘a stunning debut’ by the Sunday Times.
The Ice Age sees Farley extend his range to embrace a new and philosophical seriousness. His gift is to uncover the evidence so often overlooked by less attentive observers, finding—in childhood games, dental records and dog-eared field guides—those details by which we are proven and elegised. Formally deft and dizzying in its variety, The Ice Age will consolidate Farley’s reputation as one of the most imaginative and enduring poets to have emerged in recent years.