The Sin-eater: A Breviary, Thomas Lynch’s fifth book of poems gathers together two dozen, twenty-four line poems – a book of hours – on the life and times of Argyle, the sin-eater and includes two dozen black and white photographic images by the author’s son, Michael Lynch, and a front cover watercolour by his son, Sean. The poems and images are situated on the West Clare peninsula in Ireland where the author keeps an ancestral home in the townland of Moveen between the North Atlantic and the River Shannon estuary. The poems are prefaced by an “Introit” which examines the nature of religious experience, faith and doubt, communion and atonement.
Vicky Foster is one very capable writer and Bathwater is a very personal story. Using her own real-life experience of what happens when violence spills over into family life, Bathwater is a gripping, ever-twisting, often moving, somewhat shocking and often agonising piece of work. Rather than a cathartic over-share, however, Foster goes way beyond writing what she knows in order to craft something that is simultaneously hard-hitting and poetic. She has written a work of literary beauty, despite the harsh and uncomfortable subject matter, combining prose, poetry and dialogue.
This is as bold a line in the sand as a writer can make to announce their arrival. Given her enormous talent and ability to weave a piece of work so well, there’ll be plenty more to come from Foster’s experience-fuelled imagination as she strides, confidently, into the literary and poetic world.
The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines – sources of energy and delight in their prime – go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on. But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection. George Szirtes is one of our most inventive – and constantly reinventing – poets, and Bad Machine shows him developing new themes and new ways of writing in poems which stretch the possibilities of form and question language and its mastery.
Moniza Alvi’s new book is unified by birds. Her creations ‘Motherbird’ and ‘Fatherbird’ are inspired by her parents, and by the loss of her father and by his emigration from Pakistan. Among the many bird-related poems are versions of the French poets Jules Supervielle and Saint-John Perse, and poems ‘after’ the paintings of the Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist Remedios Varo. Blackbird, Bye Bye is Moniza Alvi’s first new poetry book since her T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted collection At the Time of Partition, published in 2013.
Philip Fried’s Squaring the Circle is humorous and yet also mysterious in its evocation of esoteric physics and theology. The title poem presents a mystic/scientific quest for an impossible geometry as both a vaudevillian historical catastrophe and a way of understanding God. Throughout, Fried uses pastiche and the mashup of texts to explore historical moments and personal history. Behind its many forms and approaches, however, the book conveys the strong sense of a “persona”—the feeling, as Stanley Kunitz once said, that the poet has imagined a person who could write these poems.
Philosophical, exuberant, incantatory, sensual, and meditative; these poems embrace the complexities of death, loss, and love. Although observed with a detached eye their unflinching truth is simultaneously intimate and compassionate. The poems, written in both formal and free verse, explore the boundaries within the human situation. Ruth O’Callaghan was awarded a gold medal at the 30th World Congress of Poets in Taiwan, holds the prestigious Hawthornden Fellowship, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is a mentor and workshop leader both in the UK and abroad.