This is Tom Shapcott’s thirteenth individual collection of poetry (two Selected Poems have appeared, in 1978 and 1989) in a writing life that – at least for his readers – began with the publication of Time on Fire in 1961. It continues something of a late poetic flowering, which, to my critical mind, began with The City of Home in 1995. All in all, Parts of Us is no disgrace to its twelve predecessors.
Like so much of Shapcott’s work it is keen, not so much to balance the light and dark of life, but to investigate their relationship. And there is plenty of dark here: as one poem jocularly says, ‘but anyone can see / night is the order of the day’. The poems engage the dark on many levels, including the metaphysical, the personal and the social. The book begins with a title poem which is an extended act of scepticism about all the ways in which we experience the world and respond to it: ‘The eyes are faulty interpreters’, ‘The tongue is a reckless speleologist’, ‘The skin is not party to the brain’s confidences’, and so on. And there is, throughout, a fascination with words (conceived as very shifty things) and their relationship with other powerful responses to the world, like taste.