Douglas Clark: Catching up on Books -- 2

            Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph of Love, 1999, Penguin.
            Robert Crawford; Spirit Machines, 1999, Cape.
            John Burnside, A Normal Skin, 1997, Cape.
            John Burnside, Swimming in the Flood, 1995, Cape.
            Jo Shapcott, My Life Asleep, 1998, Oxford.
            Gig Ryan, Pure and Applied, 1998, Paper Bark/Craftsman.
            Gary Catalano, Jigsaw, 1998, Paper Bark/Craftsman.
            James Tate, Selected Poems, 1997, Carcanet.

If you want true poetry then I think you have to ignore these books and buy Iris DeMent's three CDs, particularly the first two although they are uneven. In a very few poems Jo Shapcott finds the real edge of poetry but otherwise her little book is rather weak. For some strange reason those few poems remind me of the best poems in John Kinsella's `The Hunt' because of their raw effect.

John Burnside, Gig Ryan and James Tate all write a beautiful verse but, for me, it doesn't touch the heart. The only poem I notice from these four books is James Tate's `Poem to some of my recent poems'. Otherwise it seems like carpet poetry as favoured by John Ashbery. But John Burnside in his earlier books was an incandescent writer and may still have that effect upon readers new to him. But these new poems just do not lodge themselves in the mind. Gig Ryan can write but I am untouched.

Jo Shapcott and, now, John Burnside are Poetry Society `Poets on the Internet' but I have so far seen not a trace of their activities. Perhaps it is an easy sinecure for them.

Robert Crawford, who being from Lanarkshire and Glasgow University, I have followed from his first appearance in pamphlet form has produced a dreadfully bad new book. The first section `Pollen' is acceptable being reminiscent of his earlier triumphs, particularly in the book `A Scottish Assembly'. But the rest of the book is absolute rubbish.

Gary Catalano has three prose poem sections to two of verse in his book. The prose poems are a waste of time but he indicates talent in his verse. I wish he would take it more seriously. But his poems aren't the same class as Jo Shapcott's best.

A long poem from Geoffrey Hill is a great event. In 150 sections to tally with the Psalms it is a great disappointment. In many parts it descends to journalism and not even the high journalism of Ted Hughes' `Birthday Letters' where poetry of quality occasionally emerges. (I think it best to look on `Birthday Letters' as a long poem.) The poetry that creeps into it at times is a backfall to `Mercian Hymns' of thirty years ago. It is all so sad. And he brings in his `Angels' in the way that Sorley MacLean made great poetry out of the chiming of his `Clios' in `The Cuillin' without any effect whatsoever. The grumbling commentators are very silly. It was probably worthwhile to attempt the long poem but you have to supply structure.

So if you want poetry buy Iris DeMent.