o A Savage Enquiry Wendy Savage (£2.95 Virago). A blow-by-blow account — with padding — of the childbirth cause-célébre which details the suspension and reinstatement of Wendy Savage as an obstetrician in Tower Hamlets. 0 The Spitting Image Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson (£7.95 Faber). A black spot for this abridgement of the classic sea yarn. The dummies look like supernumeraries from The ()nedin Line and Cap‘n Flint. the garrulous parrot. looks as if he has been yo-ho-hoing on the rum.
0 The Heart at a Woman Maya Angelou (£3.95 Virago). Part four of the celebrated autobiography finds the effervescent Angelou back in the US where she crosses chords with Billie Holiday. makes another unfortunate alliance (to a South African freedom fighter) and tags along with Martin Luther King. Remarkable. the way she recalls
— IARMPITS AND IRON-FILINGSI
No wild Bacchanalian poets here. no radical. non-conformist balladeers - just a bit of beard and a dollop of drollery. Under the banner of‘Poet‘s Progress. Craig Raine. Jonathan Taylor and Hugo Williams ﬂew into Edinburgh (not on the Wings of Fancy. but on the Shuttle) to partake in the Times Literary Supplement‘s pilgrimage to and promotion of poetry. which is. after all. a very marginal seat in the modern literary hierarchy. Prior to reading from their work to an audience of buffs and me. they agreed to some prosaic chat. Thus went the conversation: Me to Craig Raine: Poems in your book ‘Rich‘. which you describe as ‘love-poems‘. seem to be rather cruel and clinical. (3.3: I think they‘re rather tender. It‘s nice to notice what people look like. If you say that someone‘s shaven armpits look like iron~filings. it‘s not cruel. H.W: Visual things are all-important in poetry. J.T: Yes you rely a lot on what you see. I'LW: I think people should just let them grow. Me: Mr. Williams. you‘re rather reticent about confronting relationships. I‘LW: But I‘m not. I‘m going to be more adventurous. 0.3: About what? H.W: About confronting. (LR: Confronting what? Armpits‘? We moved on from this cryptic whirlpool. Did they each have some kind of poetic theory? A theory about language? 0.8: Oh yes. An all-inclusive one. Like arm-pits. iron-filings and ink-wells. Natural and all-inclusive. I don‘t use any one language. You’ll see in ‘Rich' that I use several. For Hugo Williams. the ‘spoken language’ was the most fertile one. Jonathan Taylor. winner of the
I IN PRINT
0 Demon Box Ken Kesey (£10.95 Methuen). Twenty-two years since his last print performance the cuckoo has laid a curate’s egg. One Devlin Deboree fronts for Kesey in these stories. poems and essays which have their moments — infrequently.
o Gabriel’s Lament Paul Bailey (£9.95 Cape). When Oswald Harvey inherits a mint he succumbs to snobbery. It‘s too much for his wife who does a bunk. as does Gabriel whom his father affectionately dubs ‘piss-a-bed'. Now 39. Gabriel pens his ‘lament’. A sad and funny book. the best and most expansive yet from this consistent writer.
0 The Birds ot File—An Outline at their Status and Distribution Anne-Marie Smout (£7.5(llohn Donald) Birdwatchers ofGreat Britain. especially the indefatigable ‘twitchers‘ must be delighted with Anne—Marie Smout‘s detailed and intensely readable book on ‘The
.. - ..- Se"; .1’. » TLS/Cheltenham Poe ry Prize last year. a rather more sober (in the non-drink-related sense of the word) interviewee. observed that. for him. the challenge ofwriting poetry lay in the ‘difficulty ofutilising all the languages you might like’.
[asked about poetic subject-matter: the response was unanimous. The poets felt that they could really only write about things that they had personally experienced or had come into direct contact with. The candid Williams admitted that it was ‘difficult not to say “I” quite a lot because that’s what poetry‘s all about’. He manages to get round to the problem by creating perverse (even perverted) personae. In ‘Toilet‘ the narrator gets his face pee-ed on. In another. which Williams describes as a ‘sort of prayer‘. and which seems to be an ironic string of tuck-box fantasies. he asks God for ‘a piece of steel to be inserted into his penis/For some reason‘. He wonders ‘What shall we do with me?‘ What indeed? But he tells a good public school story.
When questioned on the
Birds of Fife‘. It containsa
systematic list of282 recorded species with individual species maps ofsummer and winter distribution. The author’s breadth of knowledge. competent reporting and valuable references to such experts as ‘the good ladies Miss Baxter and Miss Rintoul of Largo Bay.‘ stir the reader to wonder why we have waited since the days of Frances Pitt for such writing. 0 The Snowman Pop Up Raymond Briggs (Hamish Hamilton £8.95) With a book. film ofthe book. music from the film and even cups and saucers. the market for Raymond Briggs Snowman may seem to be already flooded. But .S'mm'mun. (lie Pop-up is a must. It is a shame there is no text at all. even though the world evoked is an unspoken world of fantasy. beautifully captured. bttt the real charm of this one comes at the end ofthe book. [won’t spoil it.
unashamed ‘personal experience' nature ofpoetry, Raine became ardent in the defence of the writer‘s freedom ofehoice. It would. he said. be censorship to dictate or take away a poet’s subject-matter. to expect political or topical content.
(LR: I don‘t want to versify a leader in The Guardian. There are plenty of poets doing that in England (ahem.Ed.) now and you can see the result.
Me: So what do you think of it‘.’
C.R: Not much.
And thus spake the poetry editor of Faber and Faber.
So a sad picture of modern poethood emerges. Solitary musings beneath lime-trees are a thing ofthe pastoral past. Our contemporaries struggle, it appears. as much for something to say as for different ways ofsaying it. Raine stated that poetic diction laboured to avoid calling a spade a spade. Or an unshaven armpit an unshaven armpit. Three very different poets. all linguistically adept. but all somehow writing through a telescope. (Kristina Woolnough)
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The List 31 Oct— 13 Nov 43