Douglas Clark: Catching up on Books -- 3

The book that has struck me most in recent months has been Michael Hofmann's Approximately Nowhere (Faber, 1999), not because of anything he says in it but because of the quality of his language, which reminded me of the young Gary Snyder. Linda Saunders has long been recognised as the best poet in Bath and a collection has been overdue. She was recognised as long ago as 1990 in New Women Poets from Bloodaxe edited by Carol Rumens. Now She River (Vane Women Press, 1999) is a showcase for her delicate feminine talent. A good book. Another Bath poet, Fred Beake, has his share of Etruscan Reader IX (Etruscan Books, 1999). His best poem Signs is not included due to editorial vagaries, but is available in Lynx, but there are still `Seth Hurley, Old' and `Ode for an English Millenium' to chew upon. In the same Etruscan Reader is Meg Bateman who I first encountered in Robert Crawford's anthology Other Tongues (Verse, 1990) and recently in Lightness and other poems (Polygon, 1997). I can only read her in translation from the Gaelic but she has a distinctive unwavering voice as she chronicles her life. A fine young voice. The late Nicholas Moore is also represented by a set of love poems.

Another Scots poet Stewart Conn in Stolen Light: Selected Poems, a 170-page selection of thirty years work, emerges from the brilliant poems of the late 60s of his uncle's farm in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, to an assured view of his Scottish world. A book not to be missed. I was very disappointed by Kate Clanchy's Slattern (Chatto, 1995) and Samarkand (Picador, 1999). The first book won the Forward Prize for best first collection but only the first prose poem `Men' struck me as having quality. Another poet born in Glasgow Jackie Kay has produced a fine third book Off Colour (Bloodaxe, 1998) to follow up the indifferent Other Lovers (Bloodaxe, 1993) and the brilliant The Adoption Papers (Bloodaxe, 1991), which everybody should have read.

I bought the new Poet Laureate Andrew Motion's Selected Poems 1976-1997 (Faber, 1998) to see what to make of him but found it very dull and ordinary. John Kinsella's Visitants (Bloodaxe, 1999) was very readable but a bit lost, for me, in a Science Fiction swirl. I prefered it when he wrote his Australian pastoral as in the fine poem `The Spur'. And, for once, I appreciated his Eclogue. I thought the final true poem `Ascension' very good. It will be interesting to see what the critics make of it. The Athens Avenue group of poets on the Internet produced another highly readable anthology A Collection of Poetry (Funky Dog Publishing, 1999). It is not generally realised how high the quality is of some of the poetry put up on the World Wide Web.

A batch of indifferent books now. The best of them is John Hall's else here (Etruscan Books, 1999) which is quite readable. Nicholas Johnson's Land (Mammon Press, 1999) demonstrates an interest in language but not much idea about writing poems. Tom Pickard's fuckwind (Etruscan Books, 1999) is very mediocre and Bill Griffith's A Book of Spilt Cities (Etruscan Books, 1999) is just plain bad, as are Keston Sutherland's Mincemeat Seesaw (Barque, 1999) and Andrea Brady's Liberties (Barque, 1999). At least Andrea Brady has some feeling for language.