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Sunday 05 January 1997
PALEFACE by Charles Boyle (Faber pounds 6.99) Deceptively simple looking poems, almost throwaway at times, but full of wit and insight into the way we live now, our tribal customs and evasions.
THE SPIRIT LEVEL by Seamus Heaney (Faber pounds 7.99) Not - by his own standards - one of his best, but worth buying for "Mycenae Lookout" (especially number three in the sequence, "His Dawn Vision"), which is as fine a commentary on the Troubles as he's ever written.
THE HUDSON LETTER by Derek Mahon (Gallery Books pounds 6.95) The publicity machine has never quite caught up with Mahon, who is as brilliant a poet as his friend Heaney. These verse letters document his US exile and those "encoded mysteries of the human heart" he brings so precisely and persuasively to the page.
VIEW WITH A GRAIN OF SAND by Wislawa Szymborska (Faber pounds 8.99) The 1996 Nobel Prize winner for literature, brilliantly translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. She writes with limpid clarity and great imagination about "our twentieth century that was going to improve on all the others", and didn't.
Les Murray's Subhuman Redneck Poems (Carcanet pounds 7.95), Craig Raine's Clay. Whereabouts Unknown (Penguin pounds 7.99), Peter Redgrove's Assembling a Ghost (Cape pounds 7) and Neil Rollinson's A Spillage of Mercury (Cape pounds 7) are also well worth getting hold of.
Best anthology, though a bit samey in its choice of styles, was Emergency Kit (Faber pounds 9.99) ed Jo Shapcott and Mathew Sweeney, an excellent sampler of recent English-language poetry around the world.
Best idea was Moon Country (Faber pounds 7.99), Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell's cheeky follow-up to Auden and Isherwood's Letters from Iceland, which is variable but a good read.
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