There's no place like Homer

POETRY The seaness of sea and the skyness of sky ... William Scammell on new poetry

After spending much of his life on the fringes of Bohemia, poking his tongue out at the establishment from Paris and the Royal Court, Christopher Logue is now a fully-fledged Faber poet, though the only one whose Selected Poems (pounds 7.99) flag the reader down with a shocking pink cover. Those of Ban the Bomb vintage, who marched to Aldermaston and bought the first issue of Private Eye, will have fond memories of such classic artefacts as his poster-poem instructing us to vote Labour, of his manifesto "To My Fellow Artists", above all of his poetry and jazz EP Red Bird, in which the rhythms and colours of Neruda were flung at the tranquillised Fifties like pots of poster-paint.

Logue has now achieved fame, respectability and, one hopes, fortune from his jump-cut, filmic versions of The Iliad, praised by George Steiner and other critics, damned by certain Greek scholars. It's not exactly Homer, but then nor is Pope. It's readable and exciting, though, and certainly the best Logue we have had so far.

Satire, lyric, ballad, narrative, haiku, agitprop, snatches of epic - Logue has a go at everything, more or less, in the 150-odd pages of his Selected, and yo

- !"#$%&'()*+,-./0123456789:;<=>?@ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ[\]^_`abcdefghijklmno qrsuvwxyz{|}u can read off the influences and impulses one by one. "The Song of Autobiography", for example, comes out of George Barker's "True Confessions" and that fashion in the early Fifties for writing elegies about oneself, most memorable of which was John Heath-Stubbs's "Epitaph". The diction is impossibly grandiose: "Nine times November had passed through me when / Germany's iron womb let out its holy man", and the crude juxtaposition of registers fails to pin down a believable grief, only a literary one.

Later there are some long sequences spoilt by Eliot (whose tall shadow flickers throughout the book) and Pound. "New Numbers" and "The Girls" mix up private and public matters in surreal, phantasmagoric nightmares that, for all their local felicities, never cohere into any graspable narrative or emotional unity. The collage- like technique, fragments of conversation, excursions into blank verse, are meant to function like the modernist nuts and bolts of Eliot's "Unreal City", but the rhythms are either imitative or arbitrary, the voices too angry or pietistic, the plots difficult to disentangle from the inchoate poetics.

National Service brings Egypt and prostitutes for sale in the bumboat, civvy street is a chaos of boredom, racism, capitalism, and personal ambition. The indignations are real enough, but the means used to express them are a medley of styles and modes picked up off a barrow and never quite achieving a fit.

And yet for all the posturing, and a philosophy of life pitched somewhere between Fitzrovia and the Liverpool Poets, there are moments when Logue can describe the a sound of a weir, the sweat on a girl's silk back, moods of elation or despair, with memorable clarity. Perhaps the next instalment of Homer will purge the struck attitudes and concentrate his hard-won gifts.

The publicity hand-out for Alice Oswald's first book, The Thing Said in the Gap-Stone Stile (OUP pounds 6.99) unwisely mentions Homer, Dante, Ovid and Barbara Hepworth as influences, names which would sink many a weightier voice than hers. A gardener by profession, she hymns the seaness of sea, the skyness of sky, all the lyric tug and flow of elements and seasons. "Grass lifts, hedge breathes / rose shakes its hair, / birds bring out all their washed songs, / puddles like long knives flash on the roads." One whole section of this poem reads "Listen Listen Listen Listen", which lifts it high on the breathless hush charts but leaves it rather low in protein.

There's a good poem on "Sleep", however, and much to like in her passionate evocations - cucumbers as "long green lungs ... of air", woods "creaking after rain", flowers that "quiddify the month", a man's head "in a bad / controversy of midges", an owl "about the size of a vicar / tumbled across in a boned gown", etc. There are Hopkins-like sonnets too, and gardeners "considering the life / and knocking the mud off". A long last poem about the three wise men of Gotham fishing for the moon doesn't quite believe enough in its own magic, and so interjects things like, "the interface / between two wastelands", which holes imagination with facile scientism. Still, when she's not too obviously "in the hollow of God's hand", Oswald is an attractive and enjoyable poet.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'