No ice cube in your malt

better to take risks than be pious
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The Independent Culture
THE title poem of Pearse Hutchinson's Barnsley Main Seam (Gallery Press pounds 6.95) is a hymn to York Minster and the wooden model there of miners at work. It was installed by the Barnsley colliers as a tribute to the church, and as a reminder that its "antique splendour" rests on hard physical graft. The poem works in disparate historical and cultural allusions, Pound-like; it ends a bit disappointingly in an easy swipe at Rupert Brooke, but along the way it blends sumptuous evocation with plain speaking about "the muscle called unskilled" and its age-old contribution to others' power and wealth. Hutchinson is an uneven poet, but anyone who can see the stained glass's "noli-me- tangere vaginistic charm" is worth attending to, and he is prepared to take the sort of risks that went out of fashion with Fitzrovia and the arrival of Larkin's bicycle clips.

Faber has published three American poets, Charles Simic's Frightening Toys, August Kleinzahler's Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow and Chase Twichell's The Ghost of Eden (pounds 6.99 each). Simic is the best of these, charmingly simple on the surface but with reverberant undertones and surreal flourishes that are both witty and heartfelt - "an ominous and numinous world, Kafka in Manhattan", as one critic has said. In Kleinzahler, "Literature and life are warming to each other", even the smell of death has "its own dark little Howdy-do". It's low-life America done in respectful, empathic brushwork: that would, you feel, have been his world but for the creative writing class.

Twichell opts for the pastoral-lyrical-quizzical, searching for "the new divine" and other pieties. "I want a new inscrutable to worship", a wish almost guaranteed to issue in solemn, decent editorials rather than in poetry. More editorials are on offer in Helen Vendler's The Given and the Made (Faber pounds 7.99), an academic encounter with four American poets (Lowell, Berryman, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham). Vendler on verse is a bit like finding an ice cube in your malt. Better to take a look at Sibyl Ruth's Nothing Personal (Iron Press pounds 5.50), an engagingly frank first book which is naive and clumsy but seldom dull, "each part of speech an occasion of lust", as it should be.

And so to Wales, in the company of Jean Earle's The Sun in the West, Christine Evans's The Island of Dark Horses and Tony Curtis's War Voices (Seren Books pounds 5.99 each). Earle likens herself to "many a woman", to "the geisha...skating the thinnest ice". But men threaten to import violence and "blood" into the unspoilt snow in her garden. "Poor woman - who is love and life/And an everlasting cry/Towards the hand of man//Whose hand is on the gun". So that's all sorted then. Me Jane, you a bloodthirsty bastard not worthy to consort with my sensuous womanhood and ineffable logic.

Evans's island is Bardsey, once a site of medieval pilgrimage, now "A tiny community of individuals/thrown together as on a voyage". Her pieties tend to arrive well wrapped in old tissue paper - "the stars breath on his face", "silences define us" - and her stories come mostly from the history books. Even Tony Curtis buys into these "pastoral lies", as Patrick Kavanagh once called them, looking back ruefully at his own excesses. Elsewhere Curtis contrasts the horrors of war with "the harvest...of love", "summer in the soul", or a daughter's innocence and grief. Not much of it rises above stock juxtapositions, moral point-scoring and touching the hems of other people's poems.

Lottie Kramer has been quietly building a reputation for years. See the title poem of The Earthquake (Rockingham Press pounds 5.95), an expert, unstiff villanelle, for what she can do. Grief of one sort or another is her main theme, sometimes laid on a bit thick, but convincing and dignified at its best. In Milner Place's In a Rare Time of Rain (Chatto pounds 6.99) , macho tales of derring-do and gipsy women alternate with Llareggub-style renditions of Yorkshire "characters" with Rabelaisian names living it up in caffs and allotments. The resulting yarns fall between more stools than you could shake your mushy peas at.

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