Shearsman Books

There is probably no book in a poet’s career more important than his or her first Selected Poems. It is here that poets have the opportunity to display the best of their work in all its variety over several decades. Individual collections are a mere step on the way. Collecteds tend to be posthumous and of interest mainly to scholars, reference libraries, and a cluster of devotees.

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Home by Dark is Pam Brown’s seventeenth book. She has also published ten chapbooks, including two collaborations. Brown’s poems are mostly elliptical, pithy, hewn into slight lines that imply or jest. Each poem manoeuvres and collects the everyday. It is an aesthetic of accumulation, a bricolage that ...

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Selected Poems 1975–2010 by Ken Bolton & Four Poems by Ken Bolton

by
October 2012, no. 345

Ken Bolton has published twenty books of poetry in the past thirty-five years, including a verse novel, The Circus (2010), and an earlier Selected Poems (1992), as well as seven often hilarious poetic collaborations with John Jenkins. An art critic, Bolton edited the seminal magazines Magic Sam and Otis Rush; and he has been a publisher with Sea Cruise and Little Esther Books. Bolton’s poems amusingly undermine any sense of affected certainty or closure – ‘with none of the confidence / of Samuel Johnson, // with none of the élan of Frank O’Hara, / with only a guilty and apprehensive grin // because in part / I belong to the school that says // if you see a leg pull it // I begin this tour of my attitudes ...’ (‘Lecture: Untimely Meditations (Tentative Title)’). Rather, his work is buoyed by indeterminacy, in which a blithe surface both collapses and embodies intellectual enquiry, most apparent in his spacious, extended poems, but also in more descriptive ones, such as ‘Kirkman Guide to the Bars of Europe’, from Sly Mongoose (2011), and one not included here, ‘Happy Accidents’, which unravels his influences. ‘Perhaps my oeuvre in / large part represents / a slur on the poetry of my betters – / whose example / allows me to go wandering off, / by the reeds, ankle deep / in mud, / mumbling inconsequently – / somehow ‘licensed’ by them, / by their example – / though heedless of it?’ (‘Poem (Up Late)’).

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With his new volume of poetry, Barry Hill has set himself the challenge of writing a book focused on the visual art of the recently deceased Lucian Freud without, excepting the cover image, accompanying reproductions of the paintings to which he responds. Naked Clay: Drawing from Lucian Freud is a collection of ekphrastic poems born out of the obsessive return to a body of painting that spanned much of the latter half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first.

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The first poem in Angela Gard­ner’s 2007 début collection, Parts of Speech, impressed me with its emotional power. I found the subsequent poems less driven but, at the same time, animated by an unusual poetic style. Gardner is a visual artist as well as a poet, and these practices seem interrelated. Her new book, Views of the Hudson, affirms my first impression of her style: her poetry is a montage of image, emo­tion, thought and speech.

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