Saturday, 29 January 2011

Late and early

Fergus Allen’s Before Troy, published by CBe in October, has at last been paid attention to. From a review by Keith Richmond in Tribune:

‘Fergus Allen [born 1921] doesn’t write like an old man. When he talks of “the bad-tempered geese in St Stephen’s Green”; “the treacherous stone steps down to the well/ being slippery as the smile of Morgan le Fay” and of how “a seagull sniggered overhead” he writes with the fresh eye of a younger man, although elsewhere he writes, with a smile, from experience: “flying ants came at us out of the sun,/ Sweeping inside our shirts, biting our midriffs/ And tangling in our hair like semen.” He can be gloriously colloquial, too, as when, in “Some Days Later”, he suddenly stops: “Sorry, that was a false start,/ A mixing up of cycles./ Let me take another run at it”, and then he’s off again. In his best pieces – “The Women on the Islands”, “Southern Ocean” (“And still alive with leopard seals and creatures,/ Eternally eating and being eaten”), “Lovers”, “A Note from the Superman” and the title poem – he is subtle, amusing and, above all, deeply human.’

Nancy Gaffield’s Tokaido Road, which CBe will publish in April, is a Poetry Book Society recommendation for the summer quarter. Following J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical, this is the second first poetry book from CBe; neither poet had a stand-out track record of magazine publicaton (J.O. nothing, Nancy Magma and Stand); both got PBS recommendations. (And J.O. went on to get a Forward shortlisting and win the Aldeburgh prize.) There’s no point in making much of this, because in all such accolades the luck of the draw counts for a lot; in a different season, with different selectors, the result might have been different too. (‘Where there is judging,’ remarks a minor character somewhere in War and Peace, ‘there is always injustice.’) But still, this is good. Congratulations to Nancy.

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