BOOKS / New collections in brief

Click to follow
Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems by Yehuda Amichai, Sheep Meadow Press pounds 9.95. This voice from a beleaguered country helps teach us the difference between self-awareness and self-abuse. If you want to see how politics can be confronted without sacrificing poetry on the altar of the commonplace, try 'The United Nations' Command in Jerusalem'. Like Primo Levi, Amichai has the ability to look at the best and the worst with an utterly human face. This collection brings together poems from a half-dozen of his books in a handsome bilingual edition, the Hebrew staring balefully across at the English like the riddle in the sands: 'In this burning country words have to be shade.' Amichai is up there with the best.

Nil Nil by Don Paterson, Faber pounds 5.99. This first collection begins with the poet playing a game of pool against himself on some remote Scottish island, where a boat's wake 'mussitates endlessly, / trying, with a nutter's persistence, to read / and re-read the shoreline'. As for the pool table, 'the nap was so threadbare / I could screw back the globe, given somewhere to stand', which would be more impressive if it weren't for the fact that screw works best on a full nap. 'The Alexandrian Library', a spirited gloss on bibliomania, mixes the terminal grot of a Peter Reading with Larkin's train ride and the Muldoonian tall story. The title poem offers a parable of decline in the shape of a disastrous football team; the shorter lyrics come close to the condition of puzzles. Paterson seems to need space in which to deploy his promising talents.

The Kiosk on the Brink by Jamie McKendrick, OUP pounds 6.99. This poet's first book, two years ago, made him a lot of admirers. His second has much knowledgeable lore about geology and botany, and confirms his talent as a landscape poet of rare skill, but feels a bit thin and rushed. There are numbers of good lines, memorable images, touches of wit, but not many that ring with complete conviction, or take off into the empyrean. There's no doubt, though: he is the real thing.

Home Fires by Andrea Capes, Flambard Press pounds 5.95. The striking first poem announces another new poet of distinction, one who has a fine ear for those voices that 'cry to be let out of the fire'. The experiences of parents and grandparents in war-torn continental Europe form the backdrop to many of these poems, evoked with quiet menace. Capes's apocalypses are more a matter of felt life than of any sort of stridency. 'Point of Detail', about Vishniac's photographs of children in the Warsaw ghetto, is an object-lesson in the morality of technique. We're all good at swelling up with indignation by proxy, telling the Germans off for their racism while ignoring the awful hatreds on our own doorstep. Better to speak of things we know, domestic and otherwise, as this poet does.

Mr Cogito by Zbigniew Herbert, trs John and Bogdana Carpenter, OUP pounds 7.99. Herbert has an old-fashioned belief in something called human nature ('old meats fermenting in a bag') and does his damnedest to waltz into its heart and mind. 'So many books dictionaries / obese encyclopedias / but no one to give advice'. This collection is a modern classic.

Trouble by Herbert Lomas, Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 12.99. A sprightly confessional book that sometimes chirps in the wrong register, confusing matiness with honesty, but which redeems matters with poems such as 'Shingle Street', 'Ignorance' and 'Holy Leisure', in which an honest-to-goodness pity and wonder are made fresh and rich.

Comments