Courting Katie explores tenuous notions of what it means to be Irish. This is a collection about drunken nights, about cranes, outbound flights, and confirmation parties. Situated within a range of pre- and post-Celtic Tiger contexts, it examines social and cultural crises, both local and national. These poems engage with the experience of Ireland, not simply in a grandiose manner, but through the individual, and the many disappointments that have been suffered on this island.
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.
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.
Cornrows and Cornfields is a heartfelt journey from the childhood fields of Indiana to the glittering metropolis of Chicago. Spinning together memory, popular culture and personal politics, celeste doaks makes words dance, weep, wail and sing – often in the space of just a couple of lines. This sublime collection of delightfully bold and vivid poems burn upon the mind’s eye long after the final page is turned.
Eamonn Lynskey’s poems live on the edge of things – people’s ordinary lives as much as global concerns – and like all edges they can be razor-sharp. His is a voice unafraid to speak about political urgencies but also well sourced in everyday language and available form. A thought-provoking, unsettling collection of questions rather than answers.
Assembly Lines asks what it means to be here and now, in post-industrial towns and cities of the heartlands that are forever on the periphery. From schools and workplaces and lives lived in ‘a different town, just like this’, these poems take a historical perspective on the present day from the ground upwards – whether the geological strata that underpins a ‘dithering island’ or the ever-moving turf under a racehorses’ hooves. This is a new Midlands realism, precision-engineered, which seeks wonderment in unlikely places. By turns both fierce and tender, the poems in Jane Commane’s first book-length collection re-assemble the landscape, offer up an alternative national curriculum and find ghosts and strange magic in the machinery of the everyday. Between disappearances and reformations, the natural and the man-made, the lines are drawn; you might try to leave your hometown, but it will never leave you.