BOOK REVIEW / Poetry in brief

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The Independent Culture
Marconi's Cottage by Medbh McGuckian, Bloodaxe pounds 6.95. McGuckian is warm and womanly, challenging male notions of propriety in logic, poetry and morality, claim her admirers. Others fret over the baffling hermeticism, her protean way with image and metaphor, the lack of any solid referential ground beneath the feet. 'I had/Smoothed the cream of youth, or manhood,/Into my arms, my body, the kiss/of a spent-salmon where/The earth is never wet'. Love is clearly the topic, and a Redgrovian desire to connect everything with everything, but the rabid subjectivism often leaves us grasping at one word in ten.

Middle Passages by Kamau Braithwaite, Bloodaxe pounds 6.95. Braithwaite's latest collection is a strange video mix of Pound and Blake, Black Mountain and jazz, typographical high jinks and bald political affirmation. 'Letter Sycorax' has fun with a computerised word-processor ('like i jine de mercantilists?/well not quite]'). 'Irae' asks 'to what judgement meekly led/shall men gather trumpeted/by louis armstrong from the dead'. Elsewhere there's fist-clenching, lots of rap, a plethora of puns. If you like e e cummings and Linton Kwesi Johnson, you'll probably like this.

The Muse Colony by Keith Clark, Redcliffe Press pounds 7.50. The colony in question was the village of Dymock, on the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border, where a group of poets gathered in that legendary summer of 1914. They included Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, and occasional visitors such as W H Davies and Ivor Gurney. The photographs are evocative, the text diligent but not very discriminating. Those still drawn to the Georgians, the best and the worst of them, will find it all as scrumptious as a good cider.

A World Beyond Myself by Rutger Kopland, Enitharmon pounds 7.95. Kopland is the pseudonym of Professor R H van den Hoofdakker, a distinguished neurologist at Groningen University, and one of Holland's foremost poets. James Brockway's translations are not always idiomatic but serve to introduce a writer of great interest. 'Our dreams will all retreat/before the facts, never . . . the other way round'. The quality of his lyrics and elegies, alpha and omega of the poet's trade, indicate a warm and intelligent man who tackles the big subjects with economy and tact.

An African Elegy by Ben Okri, Cape pounds 4.99. 'The secret places/Of the African's/Dark and impenetrable/ Mind/Touch the spirits/Of the deepest night'. Any white poet who wrote like that would be accused, rightly, of patronising cliche and lousy construction. The main sign of poetry in Okri is his addiction to portentous metaphor: 'Memories break / On the shores of desire/Against the furnace of the air/And on the fingers burnt in our fires/Of survival'. It's all much flatter on the page than it sounded in the poem he read at his Booker acceptance speech, from which this book takes its title. Perhaps it sounds better out loud.

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