Cacti by Matthew Sweeney, Secker pounds 6. The stories these poems tell move in a mysterious way, as though cut off at the knees. They offer intriguingly incomplete or misleading explanations ('As the artificial blood that saved him / was Japanese, he went to live in Japan') or, instead of explanation, they present a set of exotic and imperative needs: 'He wanted rim-bel-terfass and nothing else', 'He had already decided that sporadic / melon days were needed'. Frequently, the tone is convalescent or hypochondriac or ghoulish, and the settings are those of a hospital or some cave-like retreat. Sweeney is at ease with uneasiness, and, conversely, ill at ease with the easy and the festive. Throughout, the poems are subtly linked: the artistry is as evident in their arrangement as in his lean, unwasteful lines.
Hotel Lautreamont by John Ashbery, Carcanet, pounds 7.95. In the title-poem, a rambling sequence of pantoums, we are told that 'The world, as we know it, sinks into dementia, proving narrative passe'. Resolutely un-passe, Ashbery is concerned to dissolve away the last vestiges of a fixed perspective. The choice that lights on one word rather than another is taken with the utmost reluctance: 'Spiky was one adjective that came to mind yet for all its raised or lowered levels I approach this canal.' A friendly reading might be able to show how this open-endedness catches the random, makeshift quality of perceptions, and there are poems here, like 'Livelong Days' - 'Those were the days for living in a sack, / a loose one for answering the door in' - which move beyond the whimsical. But page after page of gauzy approximations are a high price to pay for such moments.Reuse content