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‘Craving affirmation and healing, the faithful Gillian and the faithless Vincent hurtle unstoppably towards an amour fou,’ PAGE 27


E


zra Pound was among the most interesting and controversial literary


figures of the twentieth century for a variety of reasons. He wisely and selflessly championed great writers such as T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, and he unwisely supported the cause of Mussolini, which saw him arraigned for treason. But, political notoriety aside, how important a poet was he? A new edition of his Selected Poems


and Translations (Faber and Faber, £16.99, Tablet price £15.30) helps us to judge him anew. Pound was a magpie, flitting from one civilisation to another as he pursued an authentic voice for himself. What comes over best of all in this substantial book are not so much the often dreary and maddeningly obscure extracts from his “Cantos”, the long, multi-part poem to which he devoted more than half a century of fitful endeavour, but his early poems and translations from the Provençal and the Chinese. Here the voice is zestful and assured, and the images – especially in the “Cathay” poems of 1915 – have a crystalline clarity. In these versions from the classical Chinese poets, Pound manages to say so much, and so movingly, in so few words. “Magpie” is a word we might use of the


poetry of Christopher Middleton, currently surging through his ninth decade. Two years ago, his Collected Poems were published to great acclaim. Now, in Poems 2006-2009 (Shearsman, £12.95; Tablet price £11.70) we have three more substantial books of poems rolled up into one. Middleton eagerly flits from theme to theme. He writes of birds, cats, owls, traffic noise and abstruse points of intellectual history with ease and delightful gusto. Everything is grist to his mill. It is as if the whole world of his long memory is a kind of bran tub to be plundered. He lights on some historical detail which entertains him from, say, a painting by Rogier Van der Weyden, or, zipping back a millennium, Julian the Apostate, and he entertainingly riffs upon it. He is unlike any other poet writing today. The best new discovery of the season is a


OUR REVIEWERS


Lewis Ayres is the Bede Professor of Catholic theology at the University of Durham. His latest book is Augustine and the Trinity, published by Cambridge University Press.


Michael Glover is The Tablet’s poetry editor. Nicola Smyth is an author and journalist. Brendan Walsh is a writer and publisher.


book blandly entitled Collected Poems in English (Bloodaxe, £12; Tablet price £10.80) by Arun Kolatkar, one of the great poets of post-war India. It is of the singular, mayhem-like world of India – its streets, its buses, its rats, its sad, abandoned bicycle tyres, its mess and its dirt – that he writes with such a deft, absorbing and often absurdist humour. The poetry is utterly fearless. No topic is out of bounds. He is as happy to write about a leper orchestra as he is to hymn the praises of an advertising slogan with its melancholy back to the wall. What is so delightfully unexpected, always, is his angle of attack. You can never quite prejudge how he will view the odd, impoverished particularities of the topsy-turvy world that he studies with such care and irreverent fondness. David Harsent’s Night (Faber, £9.99;


Tablet price £9) returns us, at the snap of the fingers, to England. The entire book, written by one of our most accomplished and well-published poets, feels like a long ghost story which has been mined from deep within a particular English tradition, told in many different ways. Everything seems to be locked into everything else, rather creepily, as if each poem has the right to eavesdrop on its neighbour. There is a sense, throughout, of the


ill-defined narrator of each poem roaming and flowing and drifting and hovering,


POETRY ROUND-UP


always slightly out of touch with what he is likely to encounter, always living in fear of what he will discover about the unpredictable world in which his ever-shifting and unpredictable self is condemned to play its part, by dint of being alive. It is a deeply unsettling, and immensely readable, book. A bit of a page-turner, in fact. Were he not dead, a poet who could easily


have travelled hand in hand with Harsent in his current slightly ghoulish and possessed mood would have been Martinus Nijhoff. A fine poetry publishing house called Anvil Press has just wrested this Dutch poet from relative and wholly undeserved obscurity by publishing a new translation of a long poem called Awater (£8.95; Tablet price £8.10), which was first published in the 1930s. This book, too, involves a ghostly pursuit of a man who has no name. Read on, dear reader. Michael Glover


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12 March 2011 | THE TABLET | 25


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