Independent choice: poetry

Peter Porter long ago espoused the cause of the provincial dandy in poetry - the kind of poet whose polymathic wit was sharpened miles from High Table. Since a recent major anthology encouraged us to believe that poetry is chiefly a property of the Celtic fringe and the Middle Ages, it is worth reminding ourselves that we mostly live in towns and cities, however much we put out tendrils into nature and the past.

Porter has been a great force in English poetry for nearly 40 years. In his new collection Dragons in their Pleasant Palaces (Oxford Poets, pounds 6.99), he reflects ruefully on the rewards for such commitment in "The Deaths of Poets": "But, somehow/it all went wrong; death couldn't be postponed,/symposia and Festschriften rotted/ ... hoped for vindications, complete with jokes/and anecdotes, were never written or/were spiked by teenage editors". This mood - despite characteristic burrowings into his beloved Italy and the 19th century - pervades the book, and is not merely poetic and personal. As "The Western Canoe" says: "We're all in it together, paddling downstream/as in that clip from Sanders of the River..." Which is a poetical-polite way of saying up Shit Creek: drowning in technical jargon, TV wars, stranded in a place where "all roads lead to CD-Rom".

I'm not sure that this anger is right for Porter's muse. He began as a sardonic satirist of the consumer society ("love goes as the MG goes") and wits strike home best when cool, but no one can deny his right to be angry. An unexpected and more positive note of reconciliation with his Australian background is struck in "National Service".

Don Paterson wants to be more learned than the Oxbridge boys, while simultaneously starring in his own road movie. This dichotomy has him lurching about like a Paul McCartney, his quality control department AWOL. The best poem in his second collection God's Gift to Women (Faber, pounds 6.99), "A Private Bottling", laments a failed relationship in "a chain of nips ... the tincture of a failed geography", whereas another big set-piece, "The Alexandrian Library Part II" merely fails the challenge of Paul Muldoon. God's Gift to Women is artfully packaged with a lot of knowing jokes, most of which would have been better left on the dunny wall.

In the quieter carrels of his library, Paterson aspires to MacNeice's intensely graceful lyric moments. This influence inspires some of his best poems: "Siesta", "Candle Bird", "Imperial", "Advice to Young Husbands", the "Bottling". But his strongest suit is still the microtones of description. He's a kind of verse Nicholson Baker: "the snot-string of a knotted Featherlite", "the vacuum of a black Costa Rica,/the smell of it, capric, deeply provocative".

John Burnside was praised some books ago by Sean O'Brien for not being "a tweedy nature boy", by which he meant that Burnside writes from that neck of the woods that gave us rural incest rather than Harvest Festival suppers. In A Normal Skin (Cape, pounds 7), Burnside dissolves the unities of time and space into a half-lit world where the shed skins of other lives haunt and propagate themselves. Favourite words are drowned, vanish, veil, smoke, muffled, ghosts. There's a ghoulish edge: a poem on his father ends with "his taste for carrion". It has been remarked that nature poetry has virtually disappeared in the 1990s, with Burnside its lone successful practitioner. But he's no Edward Thomas, being as dandified as anyone with titles likes "Ukiyo-e", epigraphs from William Carlos Williams, fancy words like "haar" instead of mist.

The centrepiece of Sarah Maguire's The Invisible Mender (Cape, pounds 7) is a version of Marina Tsvetaeva's long sequence "Wires". This seems to me the voice Maguire is searching for: Tsvetaeva's torrential passion rendered as an electrical storm coursing down telegraph wires. In Maguire's own poems, feeling is muffled by imagistic throwaways. This is the downside of provincial dandyism: the belief that the oblique and polysyllabic can automatically carry the freight of emotion. They can't: "Your bunched, curled faces/magenta and saffron/phototropic with desire/inexorably riding the light". Chrysanthemums, actually.

Alistair Elliot is the wild (or rather tame) card in this batch. There is not much of any kind of dandy in him, although he does live in Newcastle. "Anniversary Photograph" in Facing Things (Carcanet, pounds 9.95), would have fulfilled Larkin's worst fears about marriage and the muse. Marriage is seen as "flattened grass" and the muse takes a beating too: "The bed is rumpled, a crumpled invitation". Elliot's is a decent, humane poetry, full of musings on people and places - a Yorkshire ammonite, an old bakelite wireless, lost household objects refound. "A Family Wireless" has more urgency than most: "I daren't retune it: set before the war/on Home, it doesn't know it's Radio Four." Perhaps he should have dared to shift that dial after all.

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital