Book reviews: Poetry round-up

 

Poets have traditionally written to tempt coy mistresses into bed, and Marvell duly turns up inside the covers of The Poetry of Sex (Viking £14.99). Published in time for Valentine’s Day, this anthology features a huge “X” on its cover. Is there such a thing as raunchy poetry? Does the editor Sophie Hannah want us to admire the enjambment or heat- up so much that, like Dante’s Paolo and Francesca, we tremblingly push the book aside and “read no more that day”?

There’s some hot stuff here, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the best poetry. An Auden fan would struggle to argue that “The Platonic Blow (A Day for a Lay)” is up there with “September 1, 1939”. Auden didn’t publish this vigorous, rhythmic workout under his own name, “because of its graphic portrayal of homosexual fellatio”, as Hannah says in her introduction, but also maybe because it’s a bit naff in places. Admittedly, Auden is unlikely not to have noticed or intended the bathetic changes in tone (“Nearly nine inches long, and three inches thick, / A royal column ineffably solemn and wise”). Maybe it’s just meant to be funny – that old cop-out.

Hannah, a fine comic poet herself, tends towards the humorous and witty in her selection. The sheer unreasonableness of lovers is highlighted in Dan Burt’s daring simile of suicide bombers – “Muslim martyrs are no different, / Dear, from you and me,” which builds to an unexpected climax. There are two poems about Bond actor Daniel Craig: “… he rises like a Christ newly baptized / in sky blue trunks”, gasps Rich Goodison, while Maria Taylor’s “Hypothetical” charts a madcap fantasy  relationship culminating in the bewildered observation “I don’t even like Daniel Craig.” But it’s not all slap and tickle. Don Paterson is almost unbearably gloomy in the joyless “Buggery”, and his cocky yet anxious “Imperial” begins: “Is it usual to get this wet? Baby, I’m frightened –” Oh, please!

Grace Nichols’ “My Black Triangle” is not even about sex. The moist “black triangle” of the speaker performs its magic “beyond the dry fears of parch-ri-archy”. This probably needed to be said at the time of writing but it feels dated and silly now. But when was it written? Some dates are cumbersomely hidden in the acknowledgements, and biographical details are missing, which seems lazy of Hannah. Nonetheless, there are some gems here, and a generous portion of poems by women.

W B Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” is thoroughly sexy, and it’s about being raped by a giant bird. That’s just wrong. Yeats also turns up in Poetry Please: The Nation’s Best-Loved Poems (Faber £20), alongside Blake, Donne, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Wordsworth, and practically everyone else, making this a perfect present for literary-minded teens. This treasury of perfect phrasing, compiled from the Radio 4 request show of the same name, which might explain some archaic choices and old favourites – “Abou Ben Adhem”, John Masefield, and rather more Robert Frost than you might expect.

Strangely, Frances Cornford’s “To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train” is separated from its witty riposte, “The Fat White Woman Speaks”: “Why do you rush through the fields in trains, / Guessing so much and so much … Fat-headed poet whom nobody reads,” demands G K Chesterton. Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”, we learn, is one of the 10 most broadcast poems on the programme. And Poetry Please passes the “Ozymandias” test. For some reason, Shelley, a most virtuosic poet, is always represented by this dazzling sonnet; but at least PP tops it up with “To A Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind”. Few surprises, then, but all sound stuff.

Remember the hubris of that long-forgotten ruler whose shattered inscription reads “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” An Ozymandias moment is risked by the ever-game Simon Armitage in Stanza Stones (Enitharmon £15). You want to have a series of nature poems carved on rocks dotted about the Pennines? Send for Rhymin’ Simon! The six poems – “Snow”, “Rain”, “Mist”, “Dew”, “Puddle” and “Beck” are deft, though not extraordinary, but the book is charming in its account, along with stonecarver Pip Hall and landscape architect Tom Lonsdale, of the genesis of this grand commission.

Any fear that Armitage’s poems might somehow taint the natural beauty of the untouched sites is dispelled by Lonsdale’s observation that “the physical scale and impact of Pip Hall’s carving would be almost imperceptible … in relation to the vastness of the Pennine moors”. The stanza stones are already prompting hikers to plan special trips around them. Still, I wonder what distant generations will make of the shattered fragments, when “lone and level sands stretch far away”?

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence