A Poet's Guide to Britain, ed Owen Sheers
Sunday 14 November 2010
In his introduction to this anthology of British landscape poetry, Owen Sheers imagines the book as a "conversation" between poets of different eras. His inclusions are solidly predictable, but the juxtapositions are shrewdly done, setting up a kind of call-and-response effect across the ages. Wordsworth's "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" ("Dull would he be of soul who could pass by/ A sight so touching in its majesty") is placed next to Alice Oswald's "Another Westminster Bridge" (in which "a million shut-away eyes glance once/ restlessly at the river's ruts and glints" and then "wander swiftly away"), so the reader can compare contemplative romantic and restless modern.
Sheers argues that effective poetry creates a "double-sensation of recollection and illumination; of being presented with something familiar and yet also shown something new". The best of these poems do precisely that, transfiguring the most ordinary of scenes into something unexpected, as in Douglas Dunn's "On Roofs of Terry Street", in which rooftop television aerials become, brilliantly, "Chinese characters in the lower sky" that "wave gently in the smoke".
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