Poetry In Brief

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Half A Mind by Mark Robinson (Flambard pounds 6.95).

Four epigraphs spell out the underlying themes of this attractive but uneven book: a desire to write the personal into the political, and vice versa, without descending into agitprop. The modest openness occasionally leads him into fatal gestures ("Know what? - I love you") but more often he works hard to make the ordinary decencies smoulder through the Tyneside fog and burn off apathy. "The family at the first soviet, and other daft ideas" is a fairly typical title. Another is "I've half a mind, and that's all I need". The playful mode of "Mistaken Identity", where he comes at things slant, seems more promising than the right-on indignation of his "ancient grievance".

Antibodies by Peter Finch (Stride pounds 7.95).

All human life is here, or at least that portion of it refracted through Finch's wildly variable talents. "I keep saying oh" says "Clatter", and so he does, in every variety of concrete, visual and playful poetry. "Cobbing begins in fun" announces a long sequence on that pretty boring experimenter, and the fun is so laborious that it's mostly self-defeating. "Somnambulant in the editing", as Finch memorably puts it, this book is strictly for addicts, masochists and freewheeling bohemians who like to shake a leg in suburbia.

Timing by Anne Rouse (Bloodaxe pounds 6.95).

Rouse's forte is the short and deceptively slight poem that speaks volumes, or aspires to punch above its weight. "Sex in the Culture", for example, conjures a memorable coupling without indulging in full-frontals, and reports "I felt unlike me, afterwards, / in every cell, / while downstairs you whistled and made tea. / It wasn't sex, not sex at all."

As in her previous book she has a brisk yet warm-hearted way with dossers, losers, writers (there's a poem for Jean Rhys, another for a dead leaf), hairdressers and all the flotsam of the modern city. It's all very "now" and undeceived, sometimes a bit flat but more often thoughtful and - if the word hadn't been done to death - compassionate.

Autumn by Patricia Beer (Carcanet pounds 6.95). This austere and aptly named collection could hardly be more different. Everything's pared-down, sharp- edged, gravely witty and long pondered. A 90-year-old finds "Husbands ... less dear than departed": "But the heart opens, / Peeling back like a sardine tin / To show silver children and great-grandchildren / Beautifully arranged / Lying in state'. Sardine tins dates her, perhaps. Metaphorising them as a species of lying in state undates her into the realm of the Metaphysicals.

At the heart of the book is a sequence of poems about a near-terminal illness, written in Marvellian couplets: "Night with its epileptic dreams / Is over, and for once there seems / To be some flavour in the day ..." Death nearly puts paid to her, but she still won't answer to "Pat", only to "Patricia". This patrician streak goes along with a moving account of her own terror and confusion, as precisely noted as the earlier observation that new churches are "ridiculous, / Seeing that religion is on the way out".

William Scammell