Poetry in Brief
Sunday 02 June 1996
2 The Coastal Path by John Greening, Headland pounds 6.95. The title poem is a series of vivid snapshots of the Dorset coast, in which humour and tender wit are nicely blended with a sense of history and the precariousness of our own hold on "erosive evolutionary processes". These include the English tongue itself, "a spit of pebbles shifting gradually / from Chiswell to Chissel to Chesil". "King Charles on the Solent" is equally good on that swirl of opposites where sea meets land, and its special hold on the imagination. Greening loves to explore those hinterlands which are part topographical, part cultural-historical, saluting their strangeness while assimilating them into the present scheme of things. A sequence of "poems in time of revolution", after Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Country), covers the social spectrum from Windsor Castle to the lives and conditions of apprentices in the early industrial revolution ("The Apprentice House, Styal"). There's a wealth of forms on offer - sestinas, sonnets, quatrains, couplets rhymed and unrhymed, free verse, even a concrete poem - and an impressive energy running through them, making this Greening's finest collection to date. The Bocase Stone (Dedalus pounds 4.95) offers further evidence of his skills.
2 Morris Papers by Arnold Rattenbury, Shoestring Press pounds 4.95. A lifelong socialist and early friend of E P Thompson, Rattenbury aims to celebrate the skills and resilience of the working man. This small book salutes the life and wallpaper designs of William Morris, complete with whole- page examples of his craft. The poems are characteristically provoking, part sermon, part exemplification of art's social ideals. "A Factory As It Might Be" sounds fine, but I seem to remember his biographer telling us that when Morris eventually came to set up one of his own, which employed children on the looms as well as adults, it wasn't noticeably more generous to its workers than any other.
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