Recent Reading (up-dated)

Up-dated August /September 2017


I’d hoped that Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity would win the Forward First collection prize in September. I thought his ability to write about contemporary events a rare talent. Makoha will be important for UK poetry for some while.


William Griffin’s hyper-episodic biography of C.S. Lewis, The Authentic Voice has a novel-like attention to memorable detail. Simultaneously troubling and interesting, Lewis argued for Christians as a new step in evolution because they have abandoned their own personalities and allowed God to inhabit them. I blogged in more detail on Lewis here.


Shamefully, having referred to the text in teaching for years, I eventually got round to reading Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. It kept reminding me of Shelley’s Frankenstein – though of course the influence is the other way. Shame about the gobbets of Ossian later on.


Am teaching the always mysteriously wonderful poems of Robert Frost over the coming months and consequently blogging about him on occasions. For example . . .


I found Eric Langley’s Forward-listed Raking Light a challenge, not always of the right sort and it yielded up some thoughts about poems and explanatory notes.


Updated June/July 2017

I have very much enjoyed Richard Georges’ Make Us All Islands (Shearsman Books), partly for the ubiquity of the sea in often painful, often very beautiful poems, means. The Caribbean ocean’s symbolic burden deepens and broadens to something nigh-existential without losing historical or political power.


In 1606 – William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear James Shapiro discusses Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra as “a trilogy of sorts that collectively reflect their fraught cultural moment”. King James was pushing for a union of England and Scotland, the Gunpowder Plot occurred and England indulged a nostalgic idealisation of Elizabeth’s reign (with James as scheming Octavius Caesar).


Maria Apichella’s Psalmody is full of striking moments in her attempts to write modern Psalms with a dose of narrative and characterization which can conjure up bad romantic novels. But her intention to write spiritual poetry is to be applauded.


Up-dated April/ May 2017


Mary Oliver’s recent Felicity (Penguin, 2016), skitters along on three quotations from Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there”. Her folksy down-to-earthedness can get mawkish at times but she repeatedly captures the delight of being alive in a landscape with great economy. A book of real pleasures.


In preparation for a review I have been reading Friedrich Holderlin’s only novel, Hyperion, translated by India Russell (Melrose Books). Alongside this, the magnificent Penguin Holderlin, Selected Poems and Fragments (tr. Hamburger) and Bloodaxe’s slimmer Holderlin: Selected Poems (tr. Constantine). I find myself in agreement with Holderlin’s declaration that there “is only one quarrel in the world: which is more important, the whole or the individual part”.


Lorca’s Sonnets of Dark Love and The Tamarit Divan, translated by Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia Lorca, published by Enitharmon Press. Given the intensity and surreal-yet-folkloric quality of Lorca’s poems, I find Duran/Lorca’s versions a bit slavish and I’m surprised a poet of Duran’s quality would not want to reflect Lorca intoxicating music more powerfully.


Jacob Polley’s prize-winning Jackself was reviewed in a recent blog:a book which is bold and inventive, against the grain and successfully ambitious”. See full review here.

Up-dated March 2017

Seamus Perry’s OUP selection from Coleridge’s massive Notebooks is a joy to read with jots and extended meditations dating from his time in the Quantocks to his last days in Highgate with London, Keswick, Germany, Malta and Italy in between: at random . .  he’s watching sailors shoot at a hawk: “O Strange Lust of Murder in Man! – It is not cruelty / it is mere non-feeling from non-thinking”.


I saw Richard Price read at the recent Magma magazine launch at the LRB Bookshop and I have been reading Moon for Sale (to review for Magma with a mix of enjoyment and bafflement. Never less than engaging; often writing a new sort of poetry. Recommended.


I’m also reviewing Rowena Knight’s first collection from Valley Press, All the Footprints I Left Were Red. It’s raw, young work, a trying on of styles but very promising.


I should also mention some further research into the background of the Peter Huchel poems I am continuing to translate: John Flores, Poetry in East Germany: Adjustments, Visions, and Provocations 1945-1970, (Yale UP, 1971).


Up-dated February 2017

Beyond preparing for a recent ekphrastic workshop in Bath, it has been a wholly Coleridge zone in the last few weeks. I’ve blogged about contributing to an evening celebrating Coleridge’s work and in preparing for that I re-read Richard Holmes’ magisterial two-volume biography.


Early Visions takes STC from childhood in Ottery St-Mary, through Pantisocracy and collaboration with Wordsworth, to his failing marriage and self imposed ‘exile’ in Malta.


Darker Visions returns him to London and Keswick, increasing opium addiction, grand literary plans and procrastination, residence in Calne, Wiltshire where he wrote Biographia Literaria, to the final years in Highgate in the company of the Gillmans.


I’d also recommend Holmes’ brief Past Masters on Coleridge which brilliantly distills the two volume biography into a few pages.


Holmes also edited a selected poems, arranged non-chronologically into genre with copious notes to accompany them.


2 thoughts on “Recent Reading (up-dated)

  1. Great postings!
    I admit when I first read Gaudete I found the looser, more relaxed poetry a great relief after the increasingly clotted, hysterical work: Cave Birds in particular.
    I have never taken to his Ovid.
    The poetry-and-photos concept was wonderful; I think River my most treasured book.


    • I remember I was given River as a leaving present from my first teaching practice school back in the early 1980s, a school in Abingdon where I’m sure I had been pretty hopeless and naive. It was a lovely and appropriate thought though.

      Liked by 1 person

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