Unfinished: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Poems

I’m torn on Coleridge. For most of his poems I enjoy each stanza. However he does not seem to have heard of short poems. If I’m in a poetry mood I tend to lean towards the short. Poems hundreds of lines long, in some cases without even seperate verses, just take too much concentration: I feel the need to read some almost breathlessly.

Off to the charity shop for someone with better concentration than me!



One – Sarah Crossan

One is a very adventurous book. Its the story of two conjoined twins, as they grow into themselves, told entirely in verse.

I like poetry, and this was well-paced, short poems interspaced with longer to move the story along. The choice to only ever hear one twin’s voice was well-chosen, giving us a view of Grace as her own person alone, even as she is never apart from Tippi.

As young adult fiction it shows two girls with difficult lives making choices and growing to share lives with others and move into the difficult word of alcohol and sex. I think it stood up well as a book without the final dilemma they are faced with. That dilemma was handled well, with the choices well-framed and the unexpected ending bringing a tear to my eyes.

Letters from Iceland – W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice

If I had a fortnight to spend myself I should go to the North-West, as I think it both the most beautiful and the least visited part of Iceland. You come to Isafjördur [sic] by the Icelandic boats from Reykjavik, and move about either by horses or motor-boat. Anyone who does this of going there should get in touch with the British Vice-consul at Isafjördur, My. Joachimsson, who is extremely kind and efficient.

We have been to Iceland twice in the last year, once in the depths of winter, with only 3 hours of full daylight and roads that were covered in snow and ice. The second trip was a hostelling tour, driving on roads which we now could see were gravel. Auden and MacNeice’s tour was much more like the latter, except in 1936 the roads had not yet been developed above farm tracks, and everywhere they went they were obliged to stop in farms and able to hire the farm horses. We also went to Ísafjörður, but these days it is (just about) possible to drive there, and new, single track with passing places, tunnels connect from one fjord to the next, such that cars can connect places.

After hearing this book mentioned in a few different places, I put in a reservation at the library as the county only had 2 copies. Within a fortnight I had a pristine copy waiting for me in the town library.

It is a slightly strange, artistic collection of long poems and letters, reflecting on their experiences in Iceland, and thoughts they have developed there. This includes reflections on the Nazi presence, as during the rise of Nazi Germany, Iceland’s pure history was held up as a good example. Then of course their is Iceland’s geography, which is well worth poetry:

Watched the sulphur basins boil,
Loops of steam uncoil and coil,
While the valley fades away
To a sketch of Judgement Day.

You Made Me Late Again! Pam Ayres

Sometimes a bit of light nonsense verse is just what is needed. In You Made Me Late Again, Ayres takes a humorous look at everyday life and how a woman’s place changes through life.

Its a lovely comfortable world, where the worst that happens is

Some lowlife has flashed a knife, and made off with your cauli!

Such wry observations of life draw a smile and the elegant use of language made this a lovely little collection, and has added Ayres to my list of comedians to look out for.

There Will Be No More Nonsense – Lorraine Mariner

Writing at length about tightly-written poetry always seems to defeat the point.

And there will be no more nonsense
and you will tell her about that evening

There Will Be No More Nonsense is a poetry collection which touches on the everyday occurrences, and draws the poetry out of them, whilst somehow taking a trip towards the surreal. Mariner is speaking in a very personal voice, especially the recollections included in the seven deadly sins.

Misadventure – Richard Meier

Misadventure has an elegantly gothic cover, with siloutted crows flying from leafless trees. This sets expectations for a dark poetry collection. It called to me from the library shelf, and I scoped it up without even reading the back.

Whilst it opens in midwinter amidst turmoil, it covers the finding of love, of peace and of building a family. There are touching moments and moments of deep desperation, in short, well-paced poems.

so the gods will turn their gaze

on certain characters in offices,

on mealtimes in some marriages,

on the blank mornings of a new mother;

or rather on their victims who may

It is a lovely reflection that there is always an around the corner, and only change is constant.

I will be keeping an eye out for more of Meier’s work.

Train Songs edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson

In some ways I’m not keen on assorted poetry compilations, however well-edited they tend to “jump” between poems. However when I saw a collection called Train Songs on the shelf in the library then its definitely worth flicking through.

Train SongsWhilst it suffers from the usual compilation jerkiness, there are some real gems in this collection. I particularly like Wordsworth’s rant On The Projected Kendal to Windermere Railway. The irony of the number of Wordsworth-inspired tourists that travel up this railway is particularly amusing.

An understanding of railway history helps with understanding The Slow Train and why:

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortiehow,
On the slow train from Midsummer Norton and Mumby Row,
No churns, no porter,
No car on a seat
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Chester-le-Street
We won’t be meeting again on the slow train.

There is a lot of romanticising about the age of steam, and meetings of travellers, and other ways in which trains thread there way into culture.

November – Sean O’Brien

NovemberNovember is a collection of poems dealing with loss and the lost. I was drawn to it by its moderately Gothic cover, and then it fell open at these lines and I had to buy it:

There are two tribes this world can boast –

The Marmite-lovers and the damned.

Fact is, though, everybody’s toast,

Whatever breakfast they’ve got planned.

The Plain Truth of the Matter

The majority of the book is not flippantly humorous, but deals with a strong connection to mortality and loss. There are a variety of styles lengths of poems, I struggled with some of the longer ones in terms of length and complexity though. In general I found this a satisfying read, sitting on the train silently tapping to grasp the rhythm of more simple poems or losing myself in the more intricate ones. I’m definitely glad I picked it up.

You detect a want of motive here

But don’t you find motive

Is what you become on the way,

Aspects of the Novel – 2. Want of Motive

Bee Journal – Sean Borodale

Bee JournalI wasn’t expecting poetry when I opened this book: I’d grabbed a book from the “our librarian’s recommend” shelf whilst my son toddled about picking a few books out of the book box for himself, mostly picking it because it had the most intriguing cover and was the thinnest book on that shelf.

But as the title, Bee Journal, suggests the form of the book is a journal, each poem reflecting on a single day for the bee hive, and takes us on a journey which reflects all our mortal relationships and a measure of the time of a life. The scenes painted also give rise to consideration of a slower pace of life, where for a moment you are living with the rural concerns of a beehive.

Whilst nearly all the poems stand alone beautifully, describing the scene of that day, the real strength of this book is how the poems as a collection invoke a feeling of time passing and change. From the optimism of the new hive, life is measured out, swarms are observed and the bitter winter is experienced.

The notes on the author mention that <a href=”http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/New-Poet-Sean-Borodale”>Sean Borodale</a> is from Somerset, which being local is the countryside I had thought of when reading this.