New poetry books reviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

13 January 2014

Dannie Abse reads from Speak, Old Parrot at the T S Eliot Prize Readings, held at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.

Dannie Abse is a poet, author, doctor and playwright. He has written and edited more than sixteen books of poetry, as well as fiction and a range of other publications, in a long and varied writing life. His most recent novel, The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas (Robson Books, 2002), was long-listed for the Booker Prize and his diaries, The Presence (Vintage, 2008), won the Wales Book of the Year Award. He is president of the Welsh Academy of Letters and was awarded a CBE in 2012.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Words of wisdom as old parrot speaks out

Thursday 27th February 2014

Andy Croft reviews some of the latest poetry

Dannie Abse has published over 30 books but few as satisfying or as enjoyable as Speak Old Parrot (Hutchinson, £15).

Now in his 90th year, Abse is naturally concerned with the passage of time: “profligate, I wasted time/- those yawning postponements on rainy days,/those paperhat hours of benign frivolity./Now time wastes me.”

There are some great poems here about the comedy of ageing, like The Old Gods – Trident has lost his trident, Saturn has time on his hands and Bacchus has cirrhosis of the liver – and some fine poems about youth and memory like Cricket Bat, Moonbright and Sunbright.

But best of all is the brilliant Winged Back, in which Abse recalls the “recurring decimal of calamity” of our age: “Famine. Murder. Pollinating fires./When they stubbed one out another flared./Statesmen lit their cigars from the embers./They still do. With every enrichment/an injury. They bicker and banquet,/confer and dally, pull on cigars that glow/with blood-light. And all my years,/like the arson of Troy, are elsewhere. Ashes.”

Rob Hindle’s Yoke And Arrows (Smokestack, £8.95) takes its title from “el yugo y las flechas,” the emblem of the 15th-century Catholic monarchs who expelled the Moors and Jews from Spain.

It was also the symbol of the falange militia who murdered the radical poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca in the first weeks of the Spanish civil war. Here is one of these Black Squads listening to the singing of the prisoners about to be executed: “The night goes quietly./In the stove’s red cowl the fire collapses/a little: a brief yellow light jumps into the room,/shocking the men’s faces, glistening teeth/and tongues. Through the floorboards come/voices like the voices of the damned, singing/lullabies and songs of the country.”

Kevin Powers served in the US army in Iraq. At the heart of his first book of poems, Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting (Sceptre, £12.99), is a series of meditations on the loneliness of the soldier in a strange landscape – “the unending sun, the bite of sweat in eyes” – and in a meaningless conflict: “war is just us/making little pieces of metal/pass through each other.”

There are no issues on a battlefield except survival: “for one day at least I don’t have to decide/between dying and shooting a little boy.” And Powers knows that there can be no survivors: “how scared I am still, alone/in bars these three years later.”

The strongest poems in the book, like Death Mother And Child and the Extraordinary Improvised Explosive Device are about the necessity – and the impossibility – of writing about the experience: “If this poem had fragments/of metal coming out of it, if these words were your best friend’s leg,/dangling… If this poem had wires for words,/you would want someone to pay./If this poem had wires coming out of it,/you wouldn’t read it./If these words were made of metal/they could kill us all. But these/are only words. Go on,/they are safe to fold and put into your pocket./Even better, they are safe/to be forgotten.”

The New York-Puerto Rican poet Martin Espada has worked as a bouncer, a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman, a petrol attendant and a tenant lawyer. His new collection, The Meaning Of The Shovel (Smokestack, £8.95), is a celebration of work, of the emotional and often invisible landscape of labour, “the rude Mechanicals: the tailor, the weaver, the tinker, the bellows-mender.”

It is by turns grim, cynical, funny – and revolutionary. Here is Espada digging latrines in Nicaragua: “I dig because yesterday/I saw four walls of photographs:/the faces of volunteers/in high school uniforms/who taught campesinos to read,/bringing an alphabet/sandwiched in notebooks/to places where the mist never rises/from the trees… I dig because I have hauled garbage/and pumped gas and cut paper/and sold encyclopaedias door to door./I dig, digging until the passport in my back pocket saturates with dirt,/because here I work for nothing/and for everything.”

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One thought on “New poetry books reviewed

  1. Pingback: Booker Prize saves author from poverty | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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