Tag Archives: Pippa Little

“It’s time to be the people we’ll become”

My Family and Other Superheroes, Johnathan Edwards, Seren, £9.99
reviewed by Pippa Little

edwards my family

The poems in My Family and Other Superheroes are engaging, warm and deceptively straightforward. They gather in memories and experiences from family life in small-town post-industrial South Wales with exuberant imagery and an affectionate yet gimlet-eyed perspective. Edwards tells a great story and he has the advantage of his dry humour to tell it with, in all its human foibles and absurdities. He is particularly acute on Welshness, as in the poem ‘In John F. Kennedy International Airport’ where the ‘toothy blonde’ at checkout is asked why “the flight to Cardiff’s off” and replies “Wales/has been cancelled”.

This collection has more to it than a celebration of times past and present, however, no matter how well the poet achieves these aims. Edwards’ voice is more interesting than that. His poetry explores time in ways that remind me of the magic realists and it is this treatment of time, I believe, which is the core of this collection. It’s certainly what draws me in as a reader.

On one hand Edwards’ sharp eye shows us a recognisable scenario of depressed contemporary terraced streets, kebab houses, Starbucks and football pitches peopled with familiar figures – the bus driver, the girl on the make-up counter, the local bullies who are brothers, skateboard kids – within the melancholy palimpsest of a lost mining industry and damaged remnants of that culture.

On the other, the imaginative range of that poetic eye turns it all inside out. Time becomes a living medium, moves back and forth through human lives: we don’t pass the time but time passes through us and then comes back for us, doing as it pleases. As in ‘The Bloke in the Coffee Shop’, who is “soon to be himself, but somewhere else”, time is the active force and it is anything but linear or formal or controlled. It is anarchic and passionate as in the strongest, most compelling poems here, ‘My Uncle Walks to Work, 1962’, ‘Capel Celyn’, ’Anatomy’, ‘Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Crumlin…’, ‘Half Time..’ and ‘Building My Grandfather’, where accepted notions of past and present transform into something part sinister, part exultant.
The overall effect is magical and the poems glow with re-reading. Whether wryly recalling his mother’s voice or re-arranging his family members in a human pyramid, the poet’s ability to create a plausible yet surreal universe makes for a far from comfortable read but definitely a most fascinating one. One line stays with me, the final line from ‘Half Time, Wales v. Germany, Cardiff Arms Park, 1991’, when the poet relives his youthful relationship with his father: “it’s time to be the people we’ll become.”

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

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“approach quiet by degrees”

Yellow & Blue, Thomas A. Clark, Carcanet, £9.95
reviewed by Pippa Little

yellow and blue

Reading Yellow & Blue is a cool, slow, cumulative experience. Concise, epigrammatic, the poems inscribe themselves, two or three to each bare page. All in lower case, unpunctuated, untitled, unpeopled, they create an imaginative terrain at once of great clarity and great distance. Coming new to Thomas A. Clark’s work I was struck by its echoes of Basho’s journeying through wild landscape and his succinctly-expressed, impressionistic empathy with nature. On researching, I found Clark’s roots interconnect with the ‘land art’ of Ian Hamilton Finlay and his son Alec Finlay, on whom Basho has been a profound influence. He has also been associated with Simon Cutts (whose projects in landscape include a poem-engraved glass bridge and ‘Aeolean Neon’, words by John Clare illuminated in a small stone barn by wind turbine) and with artist/poet Johnathan Williams, whose Jargon Press published Bunting, Levertov, Niedecker, Zukofsky and Creeley. As editor of his own Moschatel Press Thomas A. Clark has also published poems by Cid Corman, a co-translator of Basho. So the interweaving of Objectivism, Minimalism, Black Mountain and art practice of Poetic Conceptualism form a dense canopy.

Even without the family trees, however, this volume stands tall. The lyric voice is tough, delicate, risk-taking:

everything
seems full
until need
fills it

[p.16]

and often extremely beautiful:

at a tap
a cloud
of pollen
spills
to drift
in a puff
of dust

[p.67]

It reads as a moving, tender eulogy to a world of natural things and creatures and to forces beyond language of light and time. The span of the poems goes beyond human life-cycles, swoops across aeons, swerves between enormity and minuteness of scale: stone forms and dissolves, blackbirds hatch and die. It’s a recognisably northern, Scottish environment, bleak and yet seductive with its pines, mountains, machair, thistles, burns, its “centuries of rain” (p.20), brim-full of animal, bird and insect life yet curiously empty. Nothing of the modern intrudes: Clark is no Paul Farley, unconcerned as he is by the ‘edgeland’ interfaces between urban and rural, the strange beauty of human-damaged spaces.

What comes through powerfully instead is the cold, spring water-like tone of the poems, so spare and pared-down they are deceptively slight yet strong as cobwebs and as meticulously crafted. Whether you choose to ‘dip in’ to this collection or read it through as a whole, it will take you to a quiet, meditative place where the mind is let free to enjoy the pure music of the poems and emerge deeply satisfied and replenished.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“even the sea is thirsty”

A Choir of Ghosts, Janette Ayachi, Calder Wood Press, £4.50
reviewed by Pippa Little

choir of ghosts
“But the compound of life is porous…” [‘The Campbell Sisters’], porous and thirsty: these poems don’t flinch from desire and need, they reach out and grasp their world in all its damaged glory. Janette Ayachi creates a rich atmosphere, sensual and heightened, almost turn-of-the-century in its opulence as she crosses time and space from Venice to Dieppe, Vermeer to Ward Eight in poems of grief and remembrance. “I dress for the night, she is hungry for me” [‘Room in Glasgow’]: the night is part spirit world in which “fog rises like cigar smoke” [‘Seascape’], and in part where mysteries emerge as if darkness paradoxically exposes the hidden elements of life to new scrutiny.

There are some lovely poems: ‘Watching the World With August Sander’ intrigues me with its slanted evocation of what it is to be a poet or even seer, someone-who-sees, while the ekphrastic poems suit Janette Ayachi’s theatrical and painterly style very well. There is a strong sense of a young poet flexing her linguistic muscles and exerting her considerable gifts. The plainer, less adorned poems such as ‘Hiatus’ and ‘Clouds from Marseilles to Annaba’ (this latter being my favourite in the collection) signal another possible path: it will be interesting to see how the writing develops. I think Janette Ayachi might find in future collections that her original and striking vision may not need so many overtly ‘poetic’ words, for example the repeated ‘nocturne’ and ‘canto’, or ‘crepuscular’, ‘glissando’. Having said that, I appreciate that Janette Ayachi is well-known as an accomplished performer of her work and so the dramatic quality of these poems may come across differently when spoken than on the page.

“Gondolas sail their selfish smiles in circles” [‘Veins of Venice’] is fantastic: so too is “The sea froths like an old mouth” [‘Seascape’] and there are many other delights. ‘Slick Valkyrie’ remakes a family story into a chilling and resonant myth and ‘Hessian Lungs’ evokes more than illness. The opening poem sets out the time-shifting, supernaturally-infused landscapes explored further on and finishes with a memorable expression of longing:

…because in a blink it is only scent that remains
and tonight darling even the sea is thirsty.

[‘Passing Places’]

and the collection finishes on a note of celebration where two daughters play under the abstracted view of their mother, “shins swiped with pollen” [‘Lavender Gardens’].

This is an imaginative and big-hearted debut and I’ll look forward to reading her next book with great curiosity. I hope that the next collection will have fewer typos and errors in punctuation, though – these can really distract the reader from the power and sparkle of the writing.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

‘poetry is not everything…everything is poetry’

The Gypsy and the Poet, David Morley, Carcanet, £9.95
reviewed by Pippa Little

morley gypsy and poet
This remarkable and beautiful book reveals itself slowly in layerings and inter-weavings much as its language assumes natural forms of bird’s nest and hedgerow. At its heart is the evocation of a friendship between the poet John Clare and Wisdom Smith whose bare title of Gypsy does not do him, or his many skills and powers justice enough.

Carefully and painstakingly crafted, the collection opens with ‘The Invisible Gift’, a spellbinding evocation of poetry as act of creation rooted in nature and the senses, bringing alive its “small singing” in the face of “…all/the hungers of the world” and finishes with the eponymous poem which asserts human connection and continuity as a source of hope: “I call out to my child, and he is everywhere, and she is everyone.”

‘The Gypsy’ and ‘The Poet’ sequences are separated by a central section, ‘World’s Eye’, which works to re-calibrate focus on the main theme, rather as a birdwatcher might adjust his binoculars to look differently from new angles and distances. Through birds and birdsong the poet asks unexpected things of language in ways reminiscent of GM Hopkins. One extremely lovely poem, ‘Pallid Swift’, will never leave me.

The core of the collection is the charting of the relationship between poet and Gypsy as a powerful, difficult, loving friendship between two different creativities, not just between Clare’s sensitive, insecure, diffident spirit and Wisdom’s more robust, down-to-earth shaman but also between two world-views separated through metaphor of language: Wisdom Smith’s Romani which, like birdsong, seems always foreign, even untranslatable, counterpoints Clare’s visionary poetic continuously straining to transform thought into thing itself and vice versa.

Though ‘broken’, Wisdom’s emerges the stronger, able to puncture Clare’s more high-faluting Romanticism and see through its ultimately self-destructive desire for fame and recognition. Clare is drawn to the Gypsy way of life it seems because he idealises its freedom: Morley, through Wisdom, is blunt about its unpoetic deprivations and hardships. Wisdom’s language, encompassing his philosophy and identity, is the stronger for being grounded in an older tradition that does not adhere to ephemeral values. Clare is all insecurities: poetic, sexual, social – for example he builds walls and hedges, takes part in the enclosing of the land in order to survive, though he detests himself for doing so. Both are woven tight within the constraints of their lives like wild birds trapped in a net.

“John, I know no man no more half-in or half-out of your race” Wisdom tells Clare: though he lives beyond society as an ‘outsider’, Wisdom Smith appears far more secure in his own community than Clare will ever be in his.

When they are closest it is at a childlike, visceral, almost pre-verbal level. Both are passionate about the natural world, both are asking profound questions about their places in it and what it means to be alive. Morley charts how the friendship changes through the book, encompassing moments of menace, quarrels, reconciliation, misunderstanding between them and their eventual drift apart. It is a very enclosed, private, singular friendship: other Gypsies, John’s family, his Patron, none impinge directly on the time the two men spend together, talking, eating, working, thinking aloud, arguing. And the shadow of Clare’s oncoming madness darkens the final poems.

They are more than just two, however: the ‘real’ poet, Morley himself, is always present in his absence, creating a kind of floating triangular structure of Morley/Clare/Wisdom Smith in which they are all selves in constant transit in relation to one another, always fluid in identity. Who is alter-ego to whom? Morley is a poet of Romani origin and this situates his writing in a most interesting space where contradictions sprout richly and are allowed their significance even as aesthetic control is applied. In ‘Hedge Layers’ the analogy is clear when Wisdom Smith tells Clare: “The hedges of hawthorn yearn to become trees…/…/A pleacher reaches for its root through bark and sapwood/which is all in our cut and angle..” The great power of this book is to be able to embrace and hold contrasting truths:

‘Poetry is not everything. You know that, John,’ smiles the Gypsy.
‘You are wrong,’ dances Clare. ‘Everything. everything is poetry.’

[‘Bender’]

The more I read this mysterious and beguiling book the more I find in it, most of all the image of the bird’s nest which becomes John Clare’s hat, the brim of which he leaned on when writing poems.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“The slow unbraiding”

Homecoming, Carrie Etter, Dancing Girl Press
reviewed by Pippa Little

etter homecoming
Homecoming is a starkly beautiful pamphlet collection of 18 poems written for a melancholy homecoming: a daughter from far away returns to her dying father. The terrain is set out unflinchingly in the first poem where a fatal accident on the line stops the train in which the daughter rides home. Death comes close, palpable yet invisible.

The final prose poem, ‘A Better Grief’, looks back on the journey both emotional and geographical which the daughter has undertaken and weighs up the distances travelled, the place she has reached now:

“The slow unbraiding. As of waters easing into separate channels. To resolve means to loosen.”

The poems in between chart this process of “slow unbraiding” through the stages of desperate loss towards a kind of acceptance, an uneasy peace. The daughter’s fierce love for her father, her protectiveness of his frailty, is evoked without sentimentality and with forensic precision in ‘The Reclamation’ but for me the collection’s driving force is the poet’s exploration of bereavement and grief’s effects. Etter’s poems are visceral: she describes grief in the ways it changes the body, destabilises it. “…I kept falling/ as though descent were all I knew’ ‘…nothing mitigated// the plummet’s force.” (‘The Chorus’).

One particularly striking poem, ‘Pursuit, Dublin’, personifies grief as a nightmarish “destroying angel” on a crowded street. Shoppers “absorb him without a shriek” because he is only for her: loss has taken her into a sealed world where she “erode[s] by grains” towards disintegration of the self. Anyone who has lost a loved person will be able to recognise such states.

There are many further layers to these poems, including their sense of the absurd and a wry humour, as in the relationship between sisters in ‘Birthday’. Use of language and image is economical and effective. The chasm between the daughter’s childhood Midwest home where “All roads out of town part fields of corn, fields/ of soybean, each farm fixed by a clapboard house,/ by a silo gleaming its silver in the setting sun” (Proportion’) and the ‘West Country’ of her adult home in the UK “where it rains and rains and it rains” (‘His Pantoum’) serves to remind us movingly of all kinds of gaps and distances. That the hometown’s called Normal, Illinois, is also a source of mordant amusement. The arrangement of the poems without titles or page numbers serves to deepen their intensity. These are poems I will want to read again.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“real events in an unreal mould”

At Maldon, J.O. Morgan, CB Editions, £8.99
reviewed by Pippa Little

at maldon Morgan
I enjoyed this. A long-ago battle, lost, and a half-lost poem. From these J.O. Morgan has fashioned At Maldon, a satisfying book-length panorama of the August day in 991 when Vikings and Anglo-Saxons met across the Essex river and then fought to the death. That initial time of waiting when each side watches the other is particularly well imagined: then the battle itself begins and we are spared nothing of the gore and the violence of hand to hand fighting. The poem has a satisfying narrative force which carries the reader along as if in the heat of the action yet also depicts the battle from afar with some skilfulness so we see events unfold as if they were a chess game or a pattern in process.

The form is alliterative and echoes that of the original poem but deliberately surprises with references to modernity such as cricket balls, designated drivers, tea-towels, even bin-liners:

It begins with crows,
black flecks against the blue,
like bits of bin-liner flapping on the wind

At first this feels odd but as the poem develops it becomes a deliberate tactic to defamiliarise and unsettle: this poem wants not merely to revisit the past but as the ‘Argument’ puts it

“to cast the real events in an unreal mould and in so doing hope perhaps for accidental truth” for it’s an “unreliable poem from a poet not permitted on to the field” who analyses “second-hand accounts…for misrememberings”

The effect is a powerful one. Old Byrhtnoth and groom of his “great white horse” Godric fall before the Danesmen, brothers die together, there is both heroic courage and a slipping-away by those who can see the battle is lost. More than anything this long poem seems to me to explore the visceral, balletic-like performance of any battle, the soldiers “athletes who practise for hour upon hour” engaged in a strange kind of dance beyond ‘reality’ where enemies are intimate, admiring, even as they cut each other down.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“the last of a word is fading…”

Sudden rainfall, Helen Calcutt, Perdika Press, £4.95
reviewed by Pippa Little

sudden rainfall
Sudden rainfall is an elegantly produced pamphlet, number 18 in a series which presents ‘original and translated work by contemporary poets’ including Jacqui Rowe and Mario Petrucci (one of the series’ editors). The translations, listed on the jacket, are in capitals: APOLLINAIRE, CATALLUS, AKHMATOVA, while the original work is in lower case – Somewhere is January by Petrucci, bedbound by David Pollard and now Sudden rainfall (sic) which mixes the two. I haven’t read any others of this series and am interested in the contrasting choices hinted at in this list. The aim of Perdika Editions is to publish work whose ‘distinctiveness… is complemented by a common commitment to scrupulous innovation, a refashioning of language of and for its time.’

Helen Calcutt’s collection begins with a poem called ‘Sunrise’ and the final poem, ‘Twilight’, ends

…the last of a word
is fading – leaving

the imprint
of rose

In between, poems such as ‘Dawn’, ‘Seasons’, ‘Half Light’ and ‘Storm’ return again and again to light and to natural phenomena such as mist, rain, the wind, to landscapes described obliquely and to suggested states of mind and emotion. There are some lovely images and phrases here (“smoke of flies” and “Frost picks at the sun. Like dew/over a run of metal, hammered bright/into seasonal concentration”), but the overall effect is like trying to decipher an album of old, half-developed negative photographs. They are ghostly and faded, concealing more than they reveal. The heightened note of ‘intense metaphysical probing’ promised on the back cover is undermined for me by a vagueness in approach which uses too many generalisations and abstractions. I’m left baffled by the poem ‘The silence (in the dance of the swallows)’ which includes two questions:

Through iron thickets a quiet
broken evening. Does your head
on the desk resemble the sun
going down beyond itself?

And the concluding:

How do you appear among
dapples of light, when the wall
Is your finger?

The ‘you’ seems to be the poet (and/or the silence) first and then in the second quote the birds, whose “wings/ murmur, as they once did” – but then I am lost with the wall and its finger, as I am confused by the head on the desk resembling the sun going down beyond itself. It’s not that I have read these poems quickly or carelessly – I have read and re-read them as the ‘attentive reader’ invited to do so on the back cover. I may be missing something vital that makes them beat with a pulse, but their nebulous, floating effect leaves me with wanting more blood than mist running through their veins.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“contradictory pleasures of shock and sweetness”

New & Selected Potatoes, John Hegley, Bloodaxe 2013, £9.95
reviewed by Pippa Little

hegley potatoes
I have to admit a soft spot for John Hegley. Years ago he visited my eldest son’s primary school and got him hooked on poetry: now he’s a poet, editor, translator and advocate for writing and I’m sure it’s in part at least due to that enthusiastic encounter.

New & Selected Potatoes is full of delights and offers us the scenic route around Hegley’s world, from 1984 to his most recent work. Some of it is laugh-out-loud and he is a magician of titles (referring to the much-maligned “brother-in-law”, as in ‘His Heart’s In The Wrong Place, It Should Be In The Dustbin’) but there’s also a quiet, wry sadness which lingers in the mind after reading: the effect of going through this volume at one sitting is of sucking sherbert lemon with its contradictory pleasures of shock and sweetness.

There’s also a sense of sharing real time with Hegley’s voice in its conversational, seemingly random unfoldings, as if you were sitting together over a coffee. Yet that guilelessness is underpinned with an acute and astute feel for language and a razor-sharp intelligence.

I found the poems about his grandparents’ marriage very affecting: she the “blancmange”, he the “potato”, their split reverberating through the generations after them. Hegley’s English identity – retro, suburban, of Scouts huts, glasses, dogs, bungalows, the Beatles – is crossed with a fault-line of his part French inheritance, something he grapples with in his relationship with his father and also as an artist. ‘The Sound of Paint Drying’ is a prose poem describing his trip to Nice to paint the same scene his father did in 1931 and ‘Zen Dad’ begins:

When I asked my father why he’d stopped painting,
He told me, ‘You are my paintings now.’

The weight of being his father’s work of art, and at the same time being expected to carry on the artist role himself (one Christmas he’s presented with his father’s palette wrapped up as a gift) threads through the poems and adds a darker tinge to the theme of human failings and specifically his own. Yet there are lots of bright colours, too. I loved poems about glimpses and snippets of life with illuminating consequences (‘Glasgow Window’ for example, where a man seems to be waving to the poet as if they are old friends but on closer inspection proves to be window cleaning, a lovely sideways nod to Stevie Smith) and pleasures taken simply in language, as in ‘The Difference Between Dogs And Sheds’, quoted here entire:

It’s not a very good idea to give a dog
a coat
of creosote

Michael Horovitz, on the back of the book, calls John Hegley “metaphysical, mordant, mellifluous”: he is all of these and more. Having read it dutifully from the beginning I then enjoyed reading this selection backwards, too, in a chronological fashion.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“how poets and poetry can matter”

Knot, John Greening, £8.00, Worple Press
reviewed by Pippa Little

Knot1Knot certainly fits its title. If you like intertextuality you will relish its many voices and interwoven twists and turns – but you will need some background knowledge of Ben Jonson’s milieu and contemporaries or at least a reference book or Google nearby.

‘The fruit of a month spent at Hawthornden Castle’ – a writers’ retreat near Edinburgh once home to William Drummond and visited by his good friend Ben Jonson in 1618 – the book is divided into two sections: the first is structured to evoke a 17th century knot garden design and involves sonnets, verse letters, an allegorical walk and the poet’s notes on life in the retreat. The second is a modern masque performed by fellow writers in the castle during John Greening’s stay.

There is much to enjoy: a fine control of language, pithy wit, a strong historical sense. Greening is also confident and ambitious in his choices of form: as Greening’s notes state, the masque genre ‘has disappeared completely – unsurprisingly, since masques were expensive, amateur dramatic indulgences for the nobility’ and he is honest enough to admit that writing one now risks parody. He pulls it off: the theme of time allows him some moving contemplation.

I prefer the first section, however. The opening sonnet to M.W. (the poet Mary Wroth, Ben Jonson’s friend) is very pleasing and I also enjoyed the other sonnets to Donne, Marlowe, Campion, Spenser – all with their titles mere bare initials so that a bit of knowledge or research effort is required on the reader’s part. I had never heard of George Gascoigne, the soldier poet who began the whole ‘Virgin Goddess’ adoration of Queen Elizabeth in verse (and who, like Shakespeare, Ralegh and Sidney, is given his name in full in the title and in capitals). I couldn’t make out who S.D. or M.D. were. It feels as if you need to be ‘classically educated’, as Jonson was, to comprehend this sequence in its full complexity.

The poet’s own walk around the Hawthornden environs and its mirroring of Ben Jonson’s longer one (from London to Scotland) form a counterpoint to each other. Ben Jonson searches for new shoes amid the satanic mills of ‘Darnton’ and its rail track to Stockton, realising that these mines, dams and ‘priapic chimneys’ were partly an England ‘he had helped to build not only by laying brick upon brick, but in rallying the ruling classes with masque and song.’ The contemporary poet, as with Ben Jonson well away from his comfort zone, puzzles among charity cyclists and internet cafes.

I particularly like Jonson’s seeing “Nothing of his own” …”except a Shakespeare. Of course a Shakespeare”, in a bookshop, which neatly and wittily encapsulates their rivalry and then the time-slip to “There were, however, volumes by another Johnson: a dictionary, it would appear.”

Knot celebrates a meeting of minds, that sense of common ground between writers, whether in a century of masques or today, in a retreat for writers from all over the world. It questions how poets and poetry can matter and make a difference.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/

“imaginative stretch and mordant absurdity”

Mortality Rate, Andrew Elliott, CB Editions, £10.00
reviewed by Pippa Little

elliott mortality rate
Some poetry connects with me immediately. I’m aware that my tastes are formed and I tend to ‘like what I know’, though I’m also curious about work which scratches my comfort zones. First readings of Mortality Rate left me feeling itchy: long, involved and convoluted syntax, proliferations of imagery, not so much taking a line for a walk as for a gallop – all these I had to, I felt, wade through before ‘getting’ the poems. But then a strange thing happened – the more poems I read, the more I began to enjoy them. I found myself wondering about them after I’d put the book down, a sure sign that this collection had got under my skin.

The collection is large: 144 pages full of outpouring and urgency as if after too long a silence. Through torrents of words and absurd, surreal situations however, there is always a controlling blade-edge of wit. And sometimes Andrew Elliott is really very funny, as in the poem ‘Teeth’, which begins: “Someday you will be there, in bed with a woman,/ when the telephone rings and it’s your dentist” : fearless in his dealings with sex and intimacy or the lack of it, using humour like a pair of tongs to pick up and examine close up something too potent for bare hands.

Identity is conditional, the poems anti-confessional: the ‘I’ is continually modified into “I am like the kind of man who…”, (my italics). One example in ‘Middle Man’ confounds expectations from the first line break : “ I am like the kind of man who took his own life/ by the scruff of the neck and…” In ‘Security’, in answer to the question “…Are they true,/all the things that you say in your poems?” the weary ‘I’ only winks, smiles and tells his readers “The book is the ointment that the fly has crawled out of…” (poet’s italics).

One stand-out sequence is ‘The Man’s Middle Leg Is a Lady’s Leg’ which contains twelve poems with titles such as ‘Gangland’, ‘Filling Station’, ‘Scholarship Boy’, ‘Young Mother’. The ‘it’ in each is a leg and each poem begins “…Shapely, shaved”. There follow exquisitely clever evocations, in different contexts, of defining moments of a ‘reveal’ – when something (symbolised by the leg) emerges from concealment into the world’s gaze. I don’t think I can pin down what the poem’s ‘about’, nor would I want to, but it speaks to me of the experience and practice of writing poetry itself and I love its imaginative stretch and mordant absurdity. Of course the ‘middle leg’ is also phallic and situates the creative urge as masculine, yet Elliott brilliantly subverts chauvinist implications by objectifying the disembodied part exactly as female body parts are objectified in contemporary culture. I found this poem really thought-provoking both in its scope and form.

So I would recommend this book wholeheartedly. It is huge and does feel a bit overstuffed – “The plot has been lost. Who lost it? Hard to say –“ is the first line in ‘Plot’, but a narrative trail would be too reductive for these poems. They are rich and funny and sad, and, full of peculiar treasures, deserve to be read and read again.

Pippa Little
http://pippalittlepoetry.co.uk/