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New Poetries VIII Eds. Michael Schmidt, John McAuliffe (Carcanet)

New Poetries VIII Eds. Michael Schmidt, John McAuliffe (Carcanet)

Anthologising is, assuredly, a contentious art, not just a little like canon forming, despite numerous protestations. The mere act of including someone and leaving others out, with its corollary to granting book publication, seems nonetheless indispensable. We need to try to get a better flavour of the times, to put worthy contributions within the same pages of a collaborative volume, just to digest and try to sample what has been going on. In contrast to the Bloodaxe Staying Aliveseries, which began in 2002, Carcanet’s New Poetries has just reached its eighth volume, having commenced in 1994, with by the standards of the series more contributors, some 24, than usual this time out. A slight bias is doubtless inevitable in that we find here Carcanet authors as well as Manchester associations. Nonetheless the range of poetries is highly diverse.

Aside from the high calibre of the various poets, presentation wise each gets to say something over a page or two about their attitude to poetics, and this in itself makes for fascinating reading. The order of presentation is, if you like, random, which I would definitely say is to the good, – I get very tired of presentation alphabetically – and there are no author photos, which again is probably advantageous in directing the reader to the text, rather than wondering too much about what the writer is as a person. This is assuredly both more in depth and if you will serious than the Bloodaxe anthologies, but more importantly is not focused on the single poem. 

Which poets might appeal is almost certainly down to personal preference; some have been already generously lauded, others are relatively unrecognised. Schmidt and McAuliffe are somewhat dismissive of attempts at labelling or categorising even. As the introduction states, ‘Particularism would be our philosophy…It entails a resistance to theories and “schools”…To say more would risk a limiting definition’ (pviii). This view certainly has its merits, but I would maintain that in the course of time some sort of filtering by subject tag or name association becomes pretty much inevitable. If our editors think this gives their writers some breathing space for now perhaps that should not be berated.

In terms of overriding themes or methods, I’d say most of the poets here do not adopt strict formalisms; but there is certainly quite a lot of objectification going on; a certain inhospitability to introspection might be noted. The poets seem more grounded than airy; there may be more nods to ecopoetry, rather than high flown verbal display or game playing. 

To be a little hopelessly partial, three poems I particularly liked here were Colm Toibin’s ‘Curves’ (p337), Joe Carrick-Varty ’54 Questions for the Man who Sold a Shotgun to My Father’ (p109) and Benjamin Nehammer ‘Things as they Must Be’ (p139). Also Isobel Williams’ Catullus renderings work very well as a set; Christine Roseeta Walker’s poems are vividly evocative of her native Negril, Jamaica. Nehammer’s poem concludes,-

                        you struck against your sense of things

                        as they must be, as they are

                        bound to be in the very end,

                        when the trees will stand in bloom,

                        when a figure you have met and forgotten

                        will return and demand what he is owed.  (end p139)

Well and one might also insist that the subject is owed something besides, but Nehammer’s phrasing is very fluid, precise and exact. That ‘sense of things’ most here would regard out in the world rather than in interior states. 

This then is a quite persuasive rendering of the view on present poetics from Carcanet, and as such no doubt does what it meant to accomplish which is to display, map out and sample what is going on in contemporary poetry. One need hardly add that there are many woman poets and poets of ethnicity here, also. Whether anything of major consequence has been omitted is another issue, and let’s say there are no Instagram poets here, for instance. But what we get is a very fulsome, variously enticing and accomplished slice of the poetic milieu.

Clark Allison 15th May 2021

Homage to Charles Tomlinson Part Two

Homage to Charles Tomlinson Part Two

In the early 1980s there was a short-lived review of modern poetry, The Present Tense, edited by Michael Abbott. The inside cover included a list of people to be thanked for help and advice and these included Neil Astley for issue 3 and Michael Schmidt for issue 4. Issue 2 contained poetry by Charles Tomlinson (‘A Defence of Poesie’) and issue 4 published his ‘Sonnet (after Mallarmé)’. Other poets who appeared in the four issues of this little Bristol-based magazine included C.H. Sisson, Anthony Rudolf, John Greening, Glen Cavaliero, Michael Schmidt and Martin Booth. In issue 3, Autumn 1982, I reviewed Tomlinson’s recently published collection The Flood and the following remarks are taken from that review. Whilst I may blush at some naïveties presented over thirty years ago I think that I still hold to the substance of what I wrote!

After referring to ‘Winter Encounters’, the poem featured in my first ‘blog’, I went on to look at Tomlinson’s questioning of the permanence of stone as his house in Ozleworth became flooded after constant heavy rain and the brook overflowing:

‘The close connection between the landscape and the people dwelling in it is emphasised by the civilised term ‘neighbourhood’ in ‘Winter Encounters’. In that poem there is a firm sense that the bodying-forth of the connections perceived within a landscape is linked to the constant values inherent within individual lives. However, in this latest collection I am impelled to recognise a new tone, a questioning sense that perhaps these objects seen are dissolving, no longer to be relied upon as constants. In ‘The Gate’ the poet’s eye is ‘teased; by a gate being placed on the edge of an unfenced field and the poet’s new eye melts a wall to nothing: a place ‘unspaced’ is, perhaps, in lacking its structure, non-existent. There is here a new way of seeing as the rigid becomes fluid and what is seen becomes almost dream-like:

‘…The mocked mind,
Busy with surroundings it can neither bound nor unbind,
Cedes to the eye the pleasure of passing
Where, between the gate’s five bars,
Perpetual seawaves play of innumerable grasses.’

Similarly the grass which appears ‘like scattered megaliths’ in ‘Hay’ dissolves into an atmosphere of scents:

‘A hedge of hay-bales to confuse the track
Of time, and out of which the smoking dews
Draw odours solid as the huge deception.’

The title poem appears near the end of the collection and the poet who wrote about ‘Stone Walls at Chew Magna’ opens now with

‘It was the night of the flood first took away
My trust in stone.’

The liquid element fills in spaces as opposed to delineating them and the poet vainly attempts to erect structures that will channel the water back to its origin as he ‘dragged / Sacks, full of a mush of soil / Dug in the rain, and bagged each threshold.’ However, naturally enough for this type of flood these measures are ineffectual and I recall D.H. Lawrence’s comment in ‘Love was once a little boy’:

‘The individual is like a deep pool, or tarn, in the mountains, fed from beneath by unseen springs, and having no obvious inlet or outlet.’

The flood in Tomlinson’s poem has ‘…no end to its sources and resources / To grow and to go wherever it would / Taking one with it. The welling up from the springs of imagination is not to be balked by sacks which are themselves filled with soil dug in the rain: here will be

‘…a swealing away
Past shape and self’.

When faced with the overwhelming scepticism concerning those meticulous details upon which the ordered mind has relied for so long then what has been said by others is something to be preserved. Carrying objects to the floor above the poet puts a stair ‘Between the world of books and water.’ In a confrontation between imaginative inspiration and the landmarks which give it shape ‘Water had tried stone and found it wanting’.
However, as with the grass inside the fenceless field the mind discovers new areas of contemplation: a reconciliation. The ‘vertigo of sunbeams’ reflected off the water onto the ceiling are, next morning, something to be praised. Perhaps stone was too unyielding for a poet taking stock of himself. Now no surface is safe from swaying and stone appears as ‘malleable as clay’. Within this Noah’s Ark there is a new morning and a new way of seeing, waiting patiently ‘upon the weather’s mercies.’

I apologise in advance for the incorrect left margin in some of the quotations: technical hitch!

Ian Brinton August 26th 2015

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

Three very attractive chapbooks from Leafe Press arrived in the post as an example of Alan Baker’s fine new pamphlet series:


sea witch by Sarah Crew, Newton’s Splinter by Simon Perril and Chapters of Age by Peter Riley


When I read Sarah Crewe’s poem ‘bridge’ in her Oystercatcher volume flick invicta last year I was immediately aware of an eerie and uncomfortable voice, which came from the depths. This is a poet who listens ‘on ocean floor’ and whose sensitive awareness ‘tells me / you are near’. Opening this new volume of electric seriousness I realise that she is even nearer as ‘a cruising white american / king sized drag submerged / from bathing / to thrashing / to screaming / to nothing’. There is a clear sense that these poems matter: they explore the personal world as it segments with ‘silent glide’ into a social scene.


When Michael Schmidt wrote the blurb for the back cover of Simon Perril’s Shearsman publication Archilochus on the Moon he suggested that Perril’s eighty poems were themselves ‘shells and fragments that constitute a haunted narrative’ and as I leaf through Newton’s Splinter I can see again what he means by this. The two sequences here come from a larger manuscript called A Soft Book and they possess a thrusting forward movement which seems to catch at the reader as the words fly past


says pawn to dawn

break on, brag

at baize we’re snookered upon


The urgency of ‘on’ contradicts the slowing pun on ‘break’ and yet complements the morning shift between past night and new day, a new dawn which is shadowed by history as the American Space Shuttle Programme flew its final mission in July 2011 and reminded us of the connections between ‘then’ and ‘now’.


And as if to explore this theme with the measured depth of understanding that Peter Riley’s work invariably offers us we have Chapters of Age with its subtitle placed inside the book, ‘Stone landscapes of Inishmore and Burren, May 2010’. The photography by Beryl Riley on the cover gives us crag and grass, age and growth, and the opening poem juxtaposes ‘Ruins of small monastic settlements’ with ‘Dull pain to right of middle back.’ This is a hauntingly beautiful book of poems in which the reader, walker, observer contemplates not only those relics and remnants of another world but also, inevitably, the questions which are ‘flying at us every day’:


What is the plant with dark green leaves and

Tiny white flowers? What is the answer to fear?


These are beautifully produced chapbooks and are well worth getting from


Ian Brinton December 20th 2013





Anthony Mellor’s The Lewknor Turn & Simon Perril’s Archilochus on the Moon

Anthony Mellor’s The Lewknor Turn & Simon Perril’s Archilochus on the Moon

The Lewknor Turn is a slim volume of poems divided up into five sections each with their own particular tone. Two of the sections are named after prominent public figures, Rod McKuen and Gordon Brown. The former is, of course, a poet of some considerable renown as an author of thirty volumes of poetry many of which can be picked up remarkably reasonably in charity shops. The latter is a former Prime Minister whose importance is highlighted in two lines from the eleventh sonnet in this section:


The best false sense you can lay your hands on

slides away in a fur of Brownian noise.


This last section of the book is accompanied by a series of notes and for those who are not in the know about Brownian noise ‘Results show that noise inlet spectra can be classified into two categories, pseudo-Brownian resonant noise and white or pink Large band noise, depending on the spectral density distribution’.

These are shrewd and bitter poems in which the tone moves from the outright comic to the moving sense of humanity trapped within concentric systems of media falsification and invention. The volume should be bought and read by all those who want a sharp dose of acerbic medicine which could provide ‘a sure cure for all diseases.’


Michael Schmidt’s blurb on the reverse cover of Simon Perril’s collection of 80 poems suggests that the lyrics to be found here are ‘themselves shells and fragments that constitute a haunted narrative’. This narrative elides the world of Archilochus, the first Greek lyric poet, and Pound’s ‘Homage to Sextus Propertius’ where, as Perril tells us in the afterword, the poet tunes into ‘a frequency of lyric resistance’ resulting in the capture of ‘a viscosity of voice’. We need now to weigh our words carefully:


and what of  our words

when the weight

has come off them


and Earth’s a sapphire

set upon black;

this space


that comes between all

folk and things,

yet strings us along


beads at market

amongst the stars

and other gaseous bodies


These two volumes of poems are available from Shearsman at and are clear indications of Tony Frazer’s continued commitment to poetry that combines the political and lyrical, the individual and the challenging. It is comforting to know that volumes like these can reach the market-place which is exactly where they belong.

As well as being accomplished poets both Anthony Mellors and Simon Perril are important academics. Mellors published his Late Modernist Poetics from Pound to Prynne (Manchester University Press) in 2005 and Perril edited The Salt Companion to John James in 2010 as well as contributing an essay on Bands Around The Throat to the 2009 Shearsman collection of essays on the work of J.H. Prynne, A Manner of Utterance.


Ian Brinton 18th October 2013

Two books by Ian Brinton from Shearsman Books

Two books by Ian Brinton from Shearsman Books

Thrills and Frills, Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier edited by Ian Brinton: Michael Schmidt once wrote that Crozier ‘is a magnificent critic, moving with the certainty of a glacier, gathering everything.’ This collection of Crozier’s prose contains work that has never been reprinted since its initial publication in magazines from the 1960s to 1990s as well as material that has never been published at all. It is very much a companion volume to An Andrew Crozier Reader (Carcanet 2012) and nothing from the former volume is repeated here.


‘An intuition of the particular’, some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes edited by Ian Brinton: these essays and interviews are by a range of critics and friends and they give a wide-ranging perspective on the work of this important contemporary poet whose work is going from strength to strength. The Knives Forks and Spoons Press has just published Snowclone Detritus, Hughes’s take on Petrarch’s sonnets 97-116. ‘This is terrific work’ says John James. Peter Hughes’s Selected Poems will form a highlight of the forthcoming Shearsman reading at Swedenborg Hall in Bloomsbury on Tuesday May 7th at 7.30. for further details see the Shearsman website.


The Shearsman books are available from

Snowclone Detritus can be got from



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