POETRY IN BRIEF
Sunday 03 August 1997
2 Dragons in their Pleasant Palaces by Peter Porter (OUP pounds 6.99. Auden's word for Byron was "civilise" - all the more civilised for being uttered in the language of Rousseau and Voltaire - and Porter continues the late- Auden line, ransacking the world's cultures and lexicons for a rhyme, a moral, a pun (a duck turns into "our mallard imaginaire"), a feeling he can call his own. "Half of what we mean by poetry / is still the rhetoric Hebrew makes in English ... / the Voice of Him that cryeth in the Wilderness / and still breaks wind in Wollongong or Widnes." There's a North Oxford don deep inside Porter's freelance idioms, conjuring imaginary conversations between artists, epochs and civilisations, anatomising "Anxiety's Air Miles" with the jaded eye of a connoisseur. The hope is that "the cooked" will "renew the raw" ("About Auden's Juvenilia"). The fevers of the mind catch fire with Jacobean eloquence, but mostly it's an unstoppable flow of mordant chat.
2 Selected and New Poems by Lotte Kramer (Rockingham Press pounds 6.95) Kramer came to this country as a Jewish child refugee in 1939. Not surprisingly, her tragic theme of loss, and the barbarism that continues to haunt 20th-century politics, is returned to again and again. At her considerable best she takes us deep into the sleep of reason, where "men are so willing / To diminish each other like stones". Sometimes she's a little "too fertile with felled blood", as "Dialogue" puts it, reaching for a ready-made sort of pity, too eager to endorse aesthetic pieties and shibboleths about what is and isn't beautiful. The fiercely loving glow in her best work, however, is powerful and humane.
2 At the Wood's Edge by David Hartnett (Cape pounds 7) 'Here, iambic, urgent, minatory, / The moorhen drives her young into the reeds: / There, bansheeing phantoms of the sky, / The Canada geese fletch rippling arrowheads' ('Mimics'). It's iambic all right but not very urgent, and still less minatory. April dawns,
jet planes, dog-barks line up in Hartnett's four-square, old-
fashioned verse, desperate to get into a poem and in between the tasteful covers of a book. The desire to make 'a sort of song' takes precedence over all the unruly contingencies that are poetic in their own right. Most of the usual subjects are covered, and most of the usual conclusions arrived at. Edward Thomas seems to be an important influence, but Thomas's brooding inwardness and formal skill are strenuously imitated rather than absorbed into something new.
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