BACK LIST 1 V 3.
REVIEWS HEAVY WEATHER BEEDING
Engaging Form Jeremy Reed (Cape £6.95) Jeremy Reed has been acclaimed by the poetry establishment as a new poetic voice. and in this collection his considerable talents are displayed in what are technically tough and accomplished poems. Reed sprinkles traditional forms with fresh combinations ofwords — 'carp-ﬂushed‘. ‘frost-warpcd‘. ‘cranebill-blue‘ — and his rich. dense language creates some highly visual and original images: ‘the hurricane‘s explosive poeny‘: ‘the emerald windﬂash of fields'; ‘a speedwell‘s blue pin-point on the planet‘. His subjects are predominantly ﬂowers and landscapes. described in painterly detail; but although individual poems may be admirable. this limited range ofsubject matter. together with the lushnesss ofthe language. means that the book as a whole has a rather cloying effect. Reading it is like sitting in a heavily scented garden on a hot day: pleasant though it may be initially. a stiﬂing claustrophobia sets in. leaving you gasping for cool air. for something rough and spare. (Elizabeth Burns)
T VIEW POINT
Shadows from the Greater Hill Tessa Ransford (Ramsay Head £4.95) The ‘Greater Hill‘ of this precious collection of poems by the founder of the Scottish Poetry Library is Arthur‘s Seat. Tessa Ransford has fashioned her personal response to living in its ice in a book which begins and ends in March but which encompasses the four seasons. Not only do we see the hill in all its guises — verdant. snow-clad and leaveless. at dawn and at midnight. unpeopled, geese and gull-populated. wind-buffeted and grave-still — we are also admitted to the heart and mind ofthe poet. At times this leads to an overdose ofsentimentality (‘I grow stems of thought/to flower as poems.‘) but Ransford‘s language is too lean for over-indulgence in the chocolate box. These poems are ‘felt‘ in a feminine way and have a rare unity. both ofsubject and tone. As we move through the year the
changes on the hill are mirrored in the mood of the poet so that when the geese finally fly offtheir going is likened to the writing of poetry— ‘They did not think. they ﬂew/ and somewhere in the guts ofa gale/ they are winging/ heavy body steady/ beak pointing ahead‘ — at once expressive and introspective. Tessa Ransford‘s poems are enhanced by a dozen stark photographs by Edwin Johnston. (Jenni Allan)
POETRY AND POLEMIC
Awkward Corners John Arden and Margarette D‘Arcy (Methuen £7.95) Though extremely uneven as a whole. AC is an occasionally brilliant fusillade from two ofthe most persistent and committed thorns in the flesh of the British body politic. John Arden and Margaretta D‘Arcy address the establishment from the margins ofsociety from a soap-box at the edge of a
market-pl 'ce in which serious issues have beer reduced to the status of commodities. In his introduction Arden cites the rejection of his piece ‘Nicaraguan Comparisions‘ from amongst others. the New Statesman. and reﬂects that the Sandinista Revolution has outlived its early appeal. that it is now more ‘upmarket‘ to debunk the achievements ofthe Ortega regime.
AC is a response to this ‘fungoid grab-it-all subculture‘ — a series of articles and autobiographical fragments presented in the most unfashionable of literary forms imaginable — the essay. Wide-ranging in subject matter. the book returns most frequently to two abiding and shared concerns — the ‘Matter of Ireland‘ and the role of the artist in society.
The unevenness ofthe book stems ultimately from the marked difference in style and approach adopted by the two writers. Arden‘s skill is to harness his erudition and poetic imagination to a common-sense radicalism that makes you wish he was the leader of the Labour party!
D'Arcy. however. is a mail-fisted polemicist whose conspiracy theories can sometimes verge on crude paranoia. To be mistrustful of publicly-funded graffiti exhibitions is one thing; to regard subsidy itselfas a tool of repression is quite another. And the theatre writer who numbers Michael Billington. the Guardian critic, among her enemies must truly be a voice in the wilderness. (Alan Fraser)
LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Margaret
Forster (Chatto £14.95) The popular myth of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is banished by this strong new biography. Supported by the discovery of hundreds of letters written before she married Robert Browning, the book reveals no enfeebled pawn at the mercy of her health and male-dominated society: on the contrary, EBB emerges as the strong-minded creator of her own fate, a Victorian woman who
ultimately achieved all that mattered to her— love, motherhood and poetic success.
True, the ﬁrst forty years of her life were spent in near seclusion. surrounded by her beloved, but apparently rather dull brothers and sisters. The peculiar life she led was, however, almost entirely ofher own choice. It suited her to keep life at arm‘s length. Her solitude, enlivened and enriched by her prodigious correspondence, fed her obsession with learning and must be held responsible for the development of her poetic voice.
The cataclysmic alteration to her life came when. aged forty. she eloped abroad with Browning. necessarily makes any biography of EBB into two different books. The lack of action in her earlier years presents a challenge to the biographer. and occasionally one longs for lengthier quotation from the letters. in order to be more convinced of her charm and wit. Nevertheless. Forster‘s immensely readable style of reportage gives a satisfying, glowing picture ofher fifteen years with Browning as a contradictory. courageous and. above all. happy woman. This biography is published coincidentally with her Collected Poems (Chatto £10.95) (Julie Morrice)
The Grey among the Green John Fuller (Chatto £4.95) Poems seldom stand perfectly together in a collection, but John Fuller has achieved a remarkable degree ofunity —- amidst variety — in this new volume. Without a strained sense of coalescence, these poems mediate between human beings and their power of free will. In one way or other the early, shorter poems allude to the title poem which looks at a lawn and the earth‘s many communities from a conceptual armchair- a literal armchair in the poem. Pondering the complexity of our evolved animal needs, (‘Perhaps too liberated, then,/ A simple hunger turned to greed’), Fuller sees the results of that evolution in the devastation of the planet. To him we are at once animal yet not-animal; with the coming of human beings mind inhabits the earth and shares in its otherwise natural alterations.
Fuller is no determinist. ‘You will not find the elusive mind/ By cutting up a living brain; nor can mind be found in analogy with machine: You look for something like mind/ In vain, for all you‘ll ever find/ Inside is a computer.’ In beautifully structure stanzas Fuller articulates the mind-body problem with philosophical sophistication, enhancing it with imaginative illustration.
There are many other magnificent poems in this collection, each telling a unique story or revealing a singular thought. Together they form what will undoubtedly be one ofthe year‘s most accomplished, enlightened
books. (Cheryl Foster)
AGAINST THE TIDE
My Darling Camel Selima Hill (Chatto £4.95) Mothers. stones. food and bathing are the dominant images in this allusive book. often recalled by an adult from a child‘s perspective. Vagueness of memory mixes with the irony of pain but there is humour where sadness or anger may have been expected. A woman who takes to diving at midnight with a friend learns that ‘suffering in empty solitudes‘ is not ‘all man has to bring him close to God‘: for herselfshe discovers ‘that she was born to be a diver: /every day until she dies./ she wants to stand./ with nothing but her Speedo on.‘ Lounging in the bath someone else remembers a recently deceased friend and rolls over in the water. ‘feeling not lonely exactly —/ more like a ﬂoating pear-half/ having warm chocolate sauce poured over me.‘ Such unusual images are to be found on every page. often seeming to subvert each other or hanging in suspension between honesty and sarcasm. but they are never bland. (Cheryl Foster)
I In the Hot-House Alan Jenkins (Chatto £4.95) Lush sexuality, often in exotic locations. is a feature of Alan Jenkins‘ first collection which charts a rake‘s progress from youthful eroticism in poems like ‘Feast‘ and ‘Language Lessons‘ down into the nightmarish world of ‘Politics‘, where sexual desire conjures up visions of sadism and death.
Many of his poems have a dream-like quality, the poet observing his world as cinematic fantasy — ‘You looked like Bardot/in Le Mepris‘ — and occasionally the name-dropping and reference to this film or that book becomes irksome; he is much better on the hot-house theme of intimacy as a pressure-cooker and sex as away of letting off steam. Jenkins withholds his finest work until the end — meditative poems on the deaths of loved-ones. they are tighter, simpler in style and all the more satisfying. (Jim Glen)
I Monterey Cypress Lachlan Mackinnon (Chatto £4.95) The first few poems in this collection, dwelling on such topics as lassitude, war, dead frogs and winter. suggest some dreich reading ahead. Thankfully it‘s not the case as Mackinnon‘s poetry is sprinkled throughout with genuine humour (albeit sardonic) and skilful wordplay which help brighten up his landscapes. He is, however, a ‘serious‘ poet and so, unfortunately darkness is at times replaced by obscurity. He deals with the familiar themes of childhood in new and familiar settings and of later adult relationships, usually as the helpless observer of a world beyond his or anyone‘s control —- ‘Somewhere near Albuquerque/they dropped a nine- megaton bomb by accident/when I
58 The List 24 June — 7 July 1988