Faber & Faber, £12.99, 54pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030; Carcanet, £9.95, 54pp from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Of Mutability, By Jo Shapcott
Rough Music, By Fiona Sampson

Both these new poetry collections demonstrate their authors' interest in the genre that involves writing about other art-forms, ekphrasis. For Jo Shapcott, the work of the late avant-garde artist, Helen Chadwick, provides inspiration. The title's direct reference is not to Spenser's envoi to The Faerie Queene but to Chadwick's 1986 ICA exhibition, "Of Mutability".

Chadwick's technique often involved mixing organic and inorganic material, and the poems negotiate metaphorical equivalents. Some borrow the artist's titles, but their aim is dramatic rather than descriptive. "Viral Landscape," in which Chadwick superimposed magnified photos of her own cells onto photographed landscapes, enables Shapcott to cross into a much-loved pastoral scene and introduce the mutable entity of her own body: "The trees around the perimeter/ were a block of solid colour,/ (my stomach fluttered at the sight – and/ gut epithelium is five days old at most)".

How to keep the autobiographical self under control but within touching distance seems to be the underlying challenge. Bodily sensations may assert themselves in the form of aching hips and itching skin, but "Don't trouble... to head anywhere but the sky" concludes the title sonnet. Looking down, you might "see your feet/ mistrust the pavement and your blood tests/ turn the doctor's expression grave". The poems translate breast cancer's mutations and terrors into fruitful and humorous accumulations of paradox, play-science and metamorphosis. Beyond the bodily disarray, the climate may cave in ("Composition") but the earth also offers refuge.

There are glassy solids: a jade marble, London's "Gherkin". At the end of "Somewhat Unravelled", an artfully constructed dialogue between the poet and a confused elderly relative, the speaker is invited to "rootle in the earth outside my front window,/ set yourself in the special bed, the one only/ wasname is allowed to garden...". Focused on process and becoming, Of Mutability is an inventive series of strategies for tuning chaos into counterpoint, flight into the arts of fugue.

Like Shapcott, Fiona Sampson is acutely conscious of the physical self through space and time. "Hayfever Portrait" might be at home in Of Mutability – which is not to suggest an influence, but a zeitgeist. Once, poetry's radical new mode was confessionalism and, for women poets, the politically significant foregrounding of their own stories. Now the search is on for meta-narratives.

Sampson, however, is interested in definition rather than metaphorical ramification. Her enabling art, music, is more mutable than any. It slips away in time, as we do, but she knows how to translate its devices into language. Rhythm is essential, and she is an artist of line and stanza-break. Post-modernist techniques need not preclude the uses of expectation, and Sampson finds new subtleties in rhyme. There's the hide-and-seek of "Charivari", the Dickinsonian pointedness of "From the Adultress's Songbook".

"Rough Music" denotes the mayhem of carnival, but this collection invites us to take plenty of smooth with the rough. The title-poem works like recitative, and records a conversation between Orpheus, Euridice and Hades. The young lovers are brilliantly punkish figures, Orpheus "a smack-head guitar dreamer" and Euridice, the eternal "lost girl" preferring suicide to fixed identity. Menotti's operatic Christmas classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Schubert's great Quintet in C major, D. 956, also provoke potent writing.

Although the fine sequence "Schubertiad" is the only poem directly concerned with this composer, the liminal quality of his music seems echoed in much of Sampson's writing. She, too, executes swift and surprising modulations, and possesses the knack of combining pizzicato and melodic effects. Sampson's mysteries and epiphanies are powerful because they register not only in the macrocosm of metaphor, but in the microsphere of form.

Carol Rumens's 'De Chirico's Threads' is published by Seren

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • 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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor