Buried Treasure

Christopher Reid on Bernard Spencer's 'With Luck Lasting' and 'Collected Poems'
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The Independent Culture

Bernard Spencer is a dark horse all right, though I'd put money on him. His strongest collection of poems, With Luck Lasting, appeared in 1963. You'll find it now, only with a lot of that luck, in second-hand bookshops, while Alan Ross's edition of Spencer's Collected Poems is not much easier to trace.

Still, he's a survivor, enduring like the donkey in his own poem, which on ankles "tiny like children's wrists" both absurdly and heroically "props the four-hooved beast-and-human pyramid". His language is never without the off-beat charm he celebrates in "Boat Poem", which declares a fondness for craft "stinky and forgivable like some great men", that on festive occasions "fountain with bunting and stand like ocean maypoles".

In 1963, Spencer's stance of the wryly questing Englishman abroad was going out of fashion. Although he wrote lines that appear to foreshadow both Larkin and Hughes - otherwise irreconcilable giants - after his early death he has been largely neglected. But I shan't take seriously any anthology of 20th-century verse which fails to include his defiantly zestful poems.

Christopher Reid's latest collection of poetry is 'For and After' (Faber)