BOOK REVIEW / In Brief

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The Independent Culture
The Door in the Wall by Charles Tomlinson, OUP pounds 6.99. Tomlinson's pastorals are highly civilised, for good and for ill. He brings to bear a painterly eye, a Stevensian playfulness and a sort of Burkean conservatism about the way things are, 'the integrity of the planet'. Like the tree-surgeon 'exploring / Floor by floor each pliant storey', he values amelioration over revolution and delights in aesthetic but not social liquefaction. 'I thought / That I could teach my countrymen to see / The changing English light, like water / That drips off a gunwhale driving through the sea'. He's more unbuttoned when remembering his Stoke childhood, and when in America (though 'gay' gets ticked off for being a 'damaged word', and there's a fearfully ungenerous look at the 'medieval fatality' of San Francisco's Aids epidemic). See 'Tubingen' or 'At Hanratty's' for what he can do with occasional verse.

Selected Poems by Vincent O'Sullivan, OUP pounds 15. 'Philosophy eases the stone through the gullet' in Vincent O'Sullivan's gutsy poems, which visibly choke on love, politics, and the daily round. He is one of New Zealand's best-known writers, equally at home in the playhouse and between the covers of books, in verse or in prose. This selection includes his 'Butcher' poems, likened in power by one critic to Ted Hughes's Crow, and much of Brother Jonathan, Brother Kafka (1980). The prevailing note is one of pained stoicism, shot through with vivid detail - eyes 'which sort of look up heavy / as the lid of a mussel surprised in steamy water'.

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