BOOKS IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
2Selected Poems by Norman McCaig, Chatto pounds 8.99. Some have claimed that his witty way with metaphor foreshadowed the Martianism of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. Whether or no, MacCaig (1910-1996) is one of the most rewarding Scottish poets of the century, and this selection from the 14 books he owned up to, plus half a dozen unpublished poems, is a delight. Affectionately edited and introduced by Douglas Dunn, it provides as good a sampling of MacCaig's resolutely minor mode - short, local, plain - as one could wish. He doesn't have the formal and linguistic fizz of a MacDiarmid or Garioch , but there's a piercing clarity, humour and depth of feeling in "Fetching Cows", "Basking Shark", and a dozen or two more, that make him a true original.

The Bridal Suite by Matthew Sweeney, Cape pounds 7. Sweeney is noted for his hypochondria and love of spicy food, both good subjects for verse. Meals figure strongly, so do instructions for his own funeral, and many strange deaths. Lots of his characters drown, one hangs herself from an elm, another is a skeleton in a hotel basement, yet another, consisting only of "a shoelace and a penis", is found lying in a field. "Which of the five murders, all with missing bodies, / that compete with Maastricht for the headline, / is this fine one?" The suspicion arises that this is more a matter of good copy than of genuine concern, to be swigged down with the Bushmills. I liked the playfulness of "The Hat", and the man with thoughts "like garlic in the pores". The lugubrious, deadpan manner - Jack Dee on stilts - is a bit formulaic, however, leading you up to the cliff edge then retreating with a hollow laugh.

Swimming Through the Grand Hotel by Judith Kazantzis, Enitharmon pounds 7.95. Love, travel, domestic affections, music, "mangrove swamps and ticky- tacky bars", birds, relatives, seas, fairy stories, paintings: Kazantzis's subjects all get written up in poems that are slightly glossy, like postcards, yet somehow original and offbeat. She's best on glamorous and exotic locations, and on the hungry heart: "I leaned out of the window, calling 'Night! / Come in. I will warm you under my duvet'." Politics is an abiding interest - there's a long, sobering look at Israel and Palestine - but geology and biology are the front-runners here, the heartsearch of mind for mind and body for body.

Orchard End and What the Black Mirror Saw by Peter Redgrove (Stride pounds 7.50/pounds 8.50). Peter the Unstoppable spreads his poetry and prose around several publishers, since no one could cope with all the grands and petits projets. The "great celebrator", as one critic has called him, is never happier than when magicking words and syntax into some approximation of "the gusty showers / And the great rotund / Thunder-carriages rolling in / Over the brown and activated / Fields". This is cousin to Ted Hughes's animism but served up with a thicker gravy of Gravesian myth-making and alternative science. The first book is poetry, the second prose, and both belong to the seamless planks of Redgrove's drunken imagination, which finds "Shiva Paths" and "Yonic Collaborators" and rhapsodic connections in everything it washes over.

William Scammell

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