BOOK REVIEW / Post-imperial distress signals: William Scammell reviews three know-it-all collections
Sunday 02 May 1993
A knowledge of German helps with Harry Smart's Shoah (Faber pounds 5.99), since the opening section frequently breaks into echt Deutsch. Food seems to feature quite often, as in the Martians. So does the list, the school-essay rehearsing facts and itineraries, tiny details standing in for enormous crimes, and the occasional stab in the direction of Rilke's angels. The title-sequence is a bald, pared-down, somewhat hermetic and yet ambitious account of the Old Testament Flood as the original Holocaust, seen through the eyes of 'the man', 'the woman', the dove, a crow, even the ark and the water itself. Twentieth-century horrors are present too, complete with reference to Claude Lanzmann's great film. Occasionally it reads like a minimalist version of Hughes's Crow or Enzensberger's Titanic poems, and the stony, merciless approach is entirely appropriate to the subject-matter. Yet biblical cadences float in the wrack too, as in some Beckettian endgame, exposing their shameless sublimity and incorrigible gleams of hope.
'This man is a bone stuck in the world's throat' says a poem about George Grosz in Martin Mooney's Grub (Blackstaff pounds 5.95), and the author clearly has ambitions to perform a similar function in Eighties Thatcherite London. He writes a gritty, comic poetry ('as if . . . the insurrectionary body might break up / . . . escape from itself / into a Balkans of erogenous zones') in a 'coal-under-the-door voice' that has been to school with the Irish wits and won't be deceived by anything less than a dying fall: 'Too stoned to stay awake, let alone fuck, / he goes under, as she climbs on top, / and dreams of being a splinter in her heel' ('Pieta'). There's a good deal to enjoy in Mooney's 'life stories taking a turn for the worse', such as a monologue from the dead Roberto Calvi hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, but too many poems go nowhere in particular, or peter out into reflexive glibness about the uselessness of poetry, la la.
The lyric vein in Michael Donaghy's Errata (OUP pounds 6.99) is not too convincing either. It alternates with dramatic monologues, celebrations of the unsung heroes of Irish folk music and good light verse such as 'The Age of Criticism', which neatly eviscerates the idiocies of patrons. 'Liverpool' is diverting, too - 'Ever been tattooed? It takes a whim of iron' - but, as with much of the observation in this book, its likeability evaporates on the tongue, like English ice-cream.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 2 Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
- 3 How much sex should I be having?
- 4 Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
- 5 Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
The 1975 leave social-media after tweeting cryptic comic strip hinting at break up
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Winner Matisse had secret dog double, says owner Jules O'Dwyer
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Vote reveals Jules O'Dwyer beat Jamie Raven by just 2% despite using 'stunt dog double'
Top Gear to follow Have I Got News For You format with 'different host for each episode'
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: Ofcom receives 90 complaints about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing dresses'
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history