BOOKS / Poetry: Carol Rumens on two exciting new collections

LIVING in Cumbria, William Scammell faces the dilemma of the poet whose habitat has already become literature. In these post-modern times, ignoring the notables and quotables at your shoulder is scarcely an option, though. Bleeding Heart Yard (Peterloo pounds 6.95), his latest volume, provides a genial 'open house' for many, from William Wordsworth, famous for 'walking sideways, / going boom boom boom' to Ken Russell, 'brandishing his Panaflex / at Mother Nature's teeming sex . . . '

'Stare at the Moon', from which these lines are taken, is a tour de force in the Pushkin stanza, tumultuously rounding off a collection where the technique is always fluent, the wit sparkling. Mimicry, a useful but double- edged gift, proves dangerous only in the more intimate poems, those which hold the brilliant mind at bay and grapple with an uneasier heart. There is, for example, the slightly Larkinesque ending of 'Poem for a Younger Son': 'Words for the wordy, parsons for sheep, / and the rush of the angel nowhere, nowhere / but waking out of the family sleep.' (my italics.) Knowingness can be a virtue, but it is that guarded, parenthetical exclamation ('Damn fool]') as the speaker watches the hang-gliding boy launch himself into 'strong, creaky arms of wind' which signals an 'un-knowingness' that may after all be a more likely place than 'the code of the competent' for a poem to begin.

The hang-gliders in Jeremy Reed's substantial new collection, Red-Haired Android (Paladin pounds 6.99), are shown in long-shot, as they 'dragonfly across the bay' ('Advances'). The image seems a fitting symbol of the delicate precision, theatricality and sense of unexplored, blue-lit space that permeate Reed's enterprise.

'The logo on his T-shirt reads Sky High, / a blue rectangle inserted on red, / a yellow rocket on its launching- pad. / The sea keeps bringing pieces of the sky ashore, blue-fractured planes, alto-cirrus. / His topless girlfriend wears a leather tie, / and reads Interzone . . .' ('Sky High'). Reed seems to be obsessively videoing such characters, searching for clues to the new states of mind - and ennui - of the young, rich and stylish, as they try to occupy the 'unfillably modern' day.

Fascinated by artifice - the androids, aliens, clones, cross-dressers, etc who are, of course, versions of ourselves, Reed keeps faith with his older affection for the untouched 'visuals' around us, the cornflowers like 'royal- blue suns', the 'azure rift accordioned into black and white' of a jay.

Even though he sometimes mistakes the energy of youthful iconoclasm for high poetic engagement, he remains a significant writer who, by colonising popular culture with traditional formal and linguistic tools, seems to provide a missing, mid-Atlantic link between the Imagists and their descendants (such as Ashbury) and the English Georgians and theirs.

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