Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw
Carcanet Press, $29.95 pb, 71 pp
Chris Wallace-Crabbe has always had a good ear for a title, but Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw is surely his best. Half a century older than Shakespeare’s ghost-ridden poet–hero, he rings the changes on Hamlet’s high-fantastical play with language, by turns delighting and disconcerting an audience which might sometimes struggle to keep up with his leaps and ellipses. Ghosts and shadows abound in this distillation of his finest work from the last five years or so, but the intimations of mortality don’t mean that this book inhabits a Yeatsian ‘country for old men’. There are some curtains of Celtic darkness, but the soul of this poet–singer rejects tattered coats and sticks, swaggering, as the introductory poem has it, ‘On the Side of Life, / suntanned here in the lost antipodes / of childhood’s yellow beach and glaucous water’.