BOOK REVIEW / Poetry in brief

The Blood of the Walsungs by Otto Orban ed George Szirtes, Bloodaxe pounds 6.95. This Hungarian was a child prodigy (under the old regime), a middle-European Beat (he translated Ginsberg's Howl) and a Lowellian confessor. 'By the time our spirits can fly our bodies are crippled' says 'The Flying Faust', but that won't stop 'a pack of warty, twitching, wheezing grandads and grannies / straddle the broomstick and sing the loud praises / of all-renovating, flame-haired, eternal youth'. His 'inimitably grim high spirits', as the editor calls them, shine bright in prose poems and formal verse alike. 'I don't believe that poetry is a care package dropped from a helicopter among those in a bad way. The poem, like a bloodhound, is driven by its instincts after the wounded prey. But the latter will change form and essence on the run . . . ' Neither he nor Szirtes will be writing poems for Bosnia, and I think they are probably right.

Jewels and Binoculars ed. Phil Bowen, Stride/Westwords pounds 6.50. Fifty poets assemble to celebrate Bob Dylan's three decades of bringing it all back home. Christopher Ricks wasn't invited to the party, nor was Wilfrid Mellers, but Wendy Cope reviews the latter's book on the elusive maestro in the collection's funniest poem, and Ginsberg decides, perhaps from personal experience, that Dylan does not want to be the 'Great Cosmic Thingamajig' after all. Nobody can reproduce, or even describe, the chopped-up- razorblades voice. For the most part they remember where they were, and what they were doing, when Dylan ram-rodded his woes into the microphone.

A Vision of Comets by James Harpur, Anvil Press pounds 7.95. Harpur's tunes are chiefly lyrical, but his love of the luminous and the numinous is a shade literary for comfort, with its 'bullion of words' and classical bric-a-brac. The 'welter of accumulated memories' is skilfully caught, but would have benefited from a little more urgency and particularity.

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