Book review / Not the same but simile
CLAY: WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN by Craig Raine Penguin pounds 7.99
Sunday 16 June 1996
This lordly note in the opening lines of Craig Raine's new collection probably derives from Joyce, and so does the desire to inventory every last amazing sight that meets the eye and ear, from human genitalia - an old Raine obsession - and various bodily ills to the hushed vibrancy of the sickroom when "the soul brushed past / like a wind taking its time" ("Death Bed").
Composed during the decade when he was writing History: The Home Movie, this latest look at the worst is slim (54 pages plus three of Notes), grim, and written in a mixture of familiar and experimental modes. It opens with a sequence called "The Prophetic Book", first published in a limited edition in Poland in 1988, and moves on to a series of elegies for dead relatives and friends, including Richard Ellmann, Hans Keller, and "an old love, Kitty Mrosovsky", who died of Aids.
There are "applique smiles" and "a golf course appliqued with bunkers"; "the Roquefort marble of the font"; a dog walking "with anxious anapaests"; ballet tights "as tight as a Durex, / stiff little tutus / cut like an Eton crop", etcetera. The hectic Martianism often hits but sometimes misses (eg that rubber johnny above). Here it is married, however, not so much to itself as to the "dead beloved bodies" of the book's last line. Some of the best poems in History were the elegiac ones, and Raine approaches those triumphs here in poems such as "Limbo" and "A Chest of Drawers", which mourns the death of a friend's mother, and perhaps of all our mothers. "Out of oblivion, death, / and the gaze of a mother's mouth / looking beyond us forever. / Out of oblivion, breath, / and the absence of breath, / the long look we lived in / fixed at last on a chest of drawers".
The notes on "shamanism", intended to gloss a poem of the same name, are a bit of a puzzle, since the verse tells us more about "the mind on the trail / of the murdering mind / that masturbates with everything" than the scholarly quotations do. But those on "Sheol" - about a mother and baby forced to take part in one of Mengele's experiments in Birkenau - are genuinely helpful. It's one of those poems where the facts cry aloud to heaven, and the poet's only job is not to get in their way.
From there it's an enormous distance to such joyous things as "Heaven on Earth" (the world new-made every morning) and "Redmond's Hare", but Raine's tough-tender lyricism is equal to the task. "I taste everything / because I have no taste" says "Muse"; "I am too deep in detail / too deep to divine / your identity ... / or catch all that stuff you keep singing about sunsets". Beneath the word-play is a Romantic aesthetic of wide- eyed wonder. Never mind the guardians of good taste, you have to find your own intimations of immortality as you go along, whether in the dirt between floorboards or the salt stains on a plaster wall. "Trained to be a bas-relief, / the undertaker's men stick out, / they overact invisibility". "I am moved by being moved / as the coffin crawls to the fire".
Critics complain that his means become ends, and would probably pounce on that phrase about the masturbatory mind above. The provocation, we can be sure, is deliberate, and as ever compulsively readable.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Blink-182 split: Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful' say Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Sam Smith is now paying Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne royalties for 'Stay With Me'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'