Books: POETRY IN BRIEF

Click to follow
Donald Justice: Orpheus Hesitated Beside the Black River (Anvil pounds 8.95)

Justice belongs to the well-made-poem generation that ruled America in the Fifties, and his own poems are very well made indeed, roughed up a little with the inflections of the living voice. Try "Sestina on Six Words by Weldon Kees" (whose poems Justice edited) or "The Summer Anniversaries", a celebration of his thirtieth birthday which reads as though Hart Crane had bumped into Anthony Hecht. He gets down everything from "Satan in Heaven" and Orpheus opening his morning mail to "Unflushed Urinals" in an Omaha bus station, juxtaposing the " poor bantam cock of a man, jaunty at one am, perfumed, undiscourageable" with the "saintly forbearance" of the mirrors and washbowls "in which we absolve ourselves". Good stuff, human through and through.

Medieval Welsh Erotic Poetry trs Dafydd Johnston (Seren pounds 7.95)

The Welsh golden age came earlier than ours: Dafydd ap Gwilym, that wonderful poet, is contemporary with Chaucer. Scholars have had a habit of attributing most of the dirty stuff of the 14th century to ap Gwilym, author of "The Rattle Bag", the poem which gave its name to the Heaney-Hughes anthology, but in this zestful anthology Johnston spreads the bawdy around among many more poets, and enlightens us about the strict forms in which they boasted and philandered. Robert Graves's "Down, wanton, down!" clearly has its antecedents here. "Oh girl, are you letting / Tudur do it or are you not?" is the least of it; much more likely is "the bite of an eel on a fishing rod, / have a c--- once, have it a hundred times", or some virtuoso paean to the ever-changing shapes of the two-backed beast. Willing maidens and jealous wives abound. Ap Gwilym (who else?) "Sends his Genitals as a Love Messenger", instead of the usual bird or fox. Fine lusty stuff from the late middle ages, and/or useful thesis material for feminists on male incorrigibility.

Comments