The best recent poetry review roundup – The Guardian

Posted: March 7, 2020 at 3:44 pm


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starred Burgess Meredith. Photograph: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Fans of Don Patersons lyric poetry will find his latest volume, Zonal (Faber, 14.99), something of a surprise. Often given to self-reinvention, Paterson has always kept musical panache at the forefront of his multi-award-winning verse, be it in the laddish smarts of Nil Nil, the paternal meditations of Landing Light, or the metaphysical reach of Rain. This new book is not only his most seemingly confessional, but also a stylistic departure. Taking its cues from the first season of the TV classic The Twilight Zone, its often surreal, long-lined narratives jump from funny to sad to profound with a suppleness somewhere between Frank OHara and CK Williams. I am trying hard not to be that guy, sighs the speaker in one poem, and while I can fall prey to bitterness, I refuse to sound like some middle-aged incel addicted to Jordan Peterson videos. The poets cutting wit and acute awareness aside, the best poems here are the reimagined character portraits that bookend the collection: Lazarus, in which self-improvement meets the Orphic contemplation of the void; and Death, in which a self-deceiving salesman tries to buy off the grim reaper.

JO Morgan won the Aldeburgh first collection prize in 2009 for a book-length poem that recounted a childhood on the Isle of Skye. In his seventh volume, The Martians Regress (Cape, 10), he has quietly established himself as a gifted writer of the long poem. His previous book, Assurances, was an intimate presentation of his fathers involvement in maintaining Britains airborne nuclear deterrent. The Martians Regress is an imaginative leap, in its story of environmental collapse and a fragile humanity, though it mines not dissimilar terrain in conjuring familiar dystopias: Waking from his nightmare / The pressing blackness of the air / Failed to hide the martian from himself. / The nightmare too had woken. In portraying the variously hopeful, hopeless, comic and bleak ways of apparent aliens, Morgan brings us closer to ourselves.

Numinous musicality remains a hallmark of the former violinist Fiona Sampsons poetry. Come Down (Corsair, 10.99) traces the meeting points of our fleeting human lives and the shifting timelessness of the world that surrounds us, be it cool stone as our voices / lick at space, or words that make a wavering / line in snow. Free from punctuation except for the odd dash or question mark, Sampsons poems refuse to stay still, intent on pursuing lines of inquiry into what it all means: Wet stone smells / of lost meaning smells / of mysterious / wise intention / the unlived-in stonework / drawing back from us. But Come Down also faces up to precise human hurt, most hauntingly in the sexual damage of Old Man, and the titular long poem, exploring place, memory and the chasms of history.

David Harsent is the modern master of what could be called the poem noir. His formally adept work often draws a solitary character into disturbing, half-apprehended horrors, as the human psyche casts and conjures its shadows in an unforgiving world. In Loss (Faber, 14.99), we join an eerie narrative that begins at 00:00 and the full of night to come, as visionary insomnia engulfs a man confronting personal and public losses. While unremittingly bleak, this book-length poetic sequence is powerful in its metaphorical reach: Children in a pool of light, a pool of dust; the way / images deceive, the way time shunts and stalls, a test / of what gathers and corrupts. Like the best poets, Harsent reminds us what it is to lose sight of ourselves, as we might meditate / on the effect of pain but never on its cause.

Ben Wilkinsons Way More Than Luck is published by Seren.

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The best recent poetry review roundup - The Guardian

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March 7th, 2020 at 3:44 pm

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