In David Constantine's latest volume of poetry, eyes are gouged out, a girl walks in the grounds of a crematorium, seeds fall on concrete, and a dying mother is "frail as the moon in daylight". All this might have been irredeemably bleak, but the verse of Nine Fathom Deep is paradoxically energetic and celebratory, transfiguring its sombre material; the girl saunters barefoot across the lawns, for example, "On two crooked fingers swinging [her] dressy shoes".
Constantine's wide- ranging imagination embraces the poetry of love, politics and nature. The dead appear, as in earlier books, and are requested to "speak clearly, ghosts/ Be patient with her, in a gentle way/ Insist". The "her" of that poem is the poet's mother, the subject of elegies all the more touching for their robustness.
Constantine's exact writing is elemental, sensual and often piercing. That a clear-eyed precision can yield tenderness is one of the enigmas of art. It is here present in images of heat and cold, of ice statues moulded by the warmth of bare hands, of the cast of a woman's breast retrieved from Pompeii in "Finder", in which the speaker's imagination restores the woman, "stepping down/ On terraces towards the lapping sea/ Barefoot, my risen dancer".
Sparing with their use of the full stop, enjambed to maximise propulsion, and bursting with life, these poems are further proof that Constantine is one of the best exponents of free verse this country has produced.