POETRY IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes ed Nick Gammage, Faber pounds 9.99. Originally intended as a festschrift to celebrate the poet's 70th birthday, this excellent collection of memoirs, poems and tributes now appears in honour of a sadly premature death. The keynote is joyful, as a galaxy of writers and readers record their excitement over a particular Hughes poem or story. Some write poems of their own, like W S Merwin's moving elegy or Adrian Mitchell's "Nine Ways" of looking at his achievement and trying to make "Ted ... smile that wonderful, lopsided smile'. Others explore his variety and fecundity. The Laureateship was incidental; he was actually England's poet-in-residence, whose example heartened and inspired two generations to tap into their own creativity.

The Beauty of the Moon by Anne Haverty, Chatto pounds 7.99. This slender volume, just 42 pages long, arrives with the imprimatur of Derek Mahon. It's a cool, dignified yet passionate look at how "Sadness seeks redemption", wondering, as it moves between Davos, Manhattan, Hong Kong, Fountainbleu and Bewley's Cafe in her native Dublin, what God "makes of our whimpers and tears". The poems are formal but seldom regular, alert to the nuances of half-rhyme, a mixture of old-fashioned virtue and modern candour. Aunts, animals, dead bodies inconveniencing a house sale, TB, Nazis in conversation, "growing my hair", Omagh, "Our Father the Terrorist" - these are some of the public and private themes she treats with skill and distinction.

Approximately Nowhere by Michael Hofmann, Faber pounds 7.99. Hofmann is a one- off, quite distinct from English poets of his generation, who specialises in virtuoso descriptions of grubby bedsits and hotel rooms, of city pavements and their improbable trees, of disaster as comedy and human relationships as a minefield of Pinteresque one-upmanship. Description, in fact, very often takes the place of narrative or conventional moral judgement, which is why his poems can seem bafflingly throwaway or difficult to place in terms of genre and tone of voice.

The long-awaited new book divides between elegies for his novelist father Gert Hofmann, memorably anatomised in Acrimony, the customary travel or in-between pieces (England, America and Europe all raked by his puckish eye) and a witty, remorseful, hyperbolic account of a failed marriage and new love affair, "our honeymoon epic in illicit instalments". As always the lines are salted with high culture, brand names, lofty ironies, "no to cerebration" from someone who eats and drinks the stuff for breakfast. There's a good interview with him in the current Thumbscrew, best of the little mags, where he owns up to his love of "assemblage or collage or bric-a-brac ... It's trying to get things to sing and dance. To electrify junk ... I start off with ... pictures, sights, smells... Life reconstituted from debris, like Schwitters. Things rescued into an ironic permanence." When the ironies don't overwhelm him, he does just that.

Seatown by Conor O'Callaghan, Gallery Press pounds 6.95. The title poem sets the mood of this quietly accomplished book, a "sanctuary of sorts" for all the mundane and miraculous sights that make up a small town: "Poor man's Latin Quarter of stevedores and an early house / and three huge silos swamped by the small hours / and the buzz of joyriders quite close on the bypass. / Time of life to settle for making a fist of love /... and waking in waves with the sheets kicked off." His favourite device is to list and juxtapose unlike things in long, leisurely sentences that court prose but suddenly jolt you with the unexpected. This gets overused at times but there is plenty here to savour, not least his formal skills.

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