Poetry In Brief

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The Independent Culture
Etruscan Reader VII: Alice Notley, Wendy Mulford, Brian Coffee, Etruscan Books pounds 7.50. If you like your poetry prolix, adversarial, "avant- garde", that is, unpunctuated but with soulful gestures aplenty, you could do worse than dip into this large-format introduction to three practitioners of the art of "poetic breath". "I can't keep track of the track there's nothing but / sidetrails of love and sadness" says Notley engagingly, and all three break into sense occasionally, as well as saying things like "a day of Brahms & apple culottes". Playfulness abounds, alongside a deal of strenuous self-expression.

Dirt Roads by John Davies, Seren pounds 6.95. The roads are chiefly those of the American west and of North Wales. There are lots of good beginnings, "Sheriff" for example: "When silver was found, a few of the boys / got married in the excitement, / wiped out the last Indian / then named the town after him". "News from Tokyo" starts excellently too, but neither poem maintains its brio. Davies is good on caves, ghost towns, old mine workings ("Echoing shafts speak / louder than men"), his diction bright and chipper, his moralising though rather too easily come by.

A Madder Ghost by Martin Crucefix, Enitharmon pounds 7.95. A long middle sequence, "Belly Pains on Princelet Street", illustrates Crucefix's strengths and weaknesses. It's about his Huguenot ancestors in Spitalfields, and his father's illness from cancer, written in a strange fractured language intended to mirror the fears and sufferings of immigrants. The danger is that this mannered obliquity sometimes draws as much attention to itself as to the pain and bewilderment it wants to lament. There's a touch of John Berryman's The Dream Songs in this, perhaps. Another sequence charts the birth, illness and recovery of a first child. The verse throughout is scrupulous, empathetic, earnest, much like the poet's hands, "suddenly empty / and full of responsibility".