Reviews

The Ice Age Paul Farley

Published by Picador
Price £8.99

The Ice Age cover: clouds

What does milk have to do with the 11th February 1963? It was "the worst winter for decades. In the freeze some things get lost and I'm not even born" , and a strange unification of events takes place. At the time when John Lennon was recording Twist and Shout at Abbey Road studios, he asked for a bottle of milk to soothe his throat for one last take . And at that moment, in a flat in Primrose Hill, Sylvia Plath took out the milk from the fridge for her children when they wake up, before gassing herself. And "This milk bottle might hold what John'll drink for one last take / that she'll leave out for when the children wake. "

The whole chilling image of Farley's 11th February 1963 poem is the chill felt by the reader throughout his new collection The Ice Age. Farley's first The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You has won him the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Since then, Farley's work and recognition in poetry circles has been in constant and steady growth.

With his first collection, Farley had already emerged as a poet with a remarkable ability to change and revitalise the way in which we see the minor oddities of daily life. Poems like The Reading Hour, Dead Fish, Winter Hill capture the unavoidable detail hidden in thoughts and objects around us, they further the imagination and reminisce of childhood, through teenage years to maturity of existence. He can move with bewildering speed from image to image, allusion to allusion, simile to simile with distinct clarity of thought. This though can be seen as his genius and the fatal flaw. Perhaps a slight influence of Philip Larkin can be detected in his allusions of trains and travel, but the reader is still left with an intriguing taste in mouth.

The Ice Age has been short listed for this years Forward Prize. Although there have been many shadowing inner political debates at this years Forward Prize panel, especially with Farley being one of the Picador Poets, this is piece of work that represents modern trend in British poetry now. If in October this collection wins Forward, it will be deservedly. Still, Farley is far, far from reaching his poetical peek yet.

The Light Trap John Burnside

Published by Cape
Price £8.00

The Light Trap cover: ancient maze

John Burnside's eighth collection of poetry takes its epigraph from Wallace Steven's poem Thirteen ways of looking at a Blackbird, images from which are woven throughout the collection as a way of structuring and working through complex ideas about the way in which we think about the natural world.

As in previous collections, Burnside continues to explore the numinous, presenting the poet's role as that of someone who works at catching the elusiveness of experience as it hovers between the unspoken, the remembered or imagined.

Each poem asks us to reinvent a way of seeing, rehearsing words / to make the world seem permanent : a philosophy of the world that depends upon a simultaneous bewilderment and a desire to make sense of the physical laws that govern nature. For Burnside, 'seeing' and 'not seeing' are important concepts, with poetry offered as a way of both thinking and of knowing in a universe where looking always worked towards a word / trading the limits of speech / for the unsaid presence. It is the magic that speech performs which allows us the revelation of the known.

Burnside makes reference to various philosophies of being and science: Lucretius, Heidegger, Einstein, but his own philosophy appears to reside within the mysteriousnesss of the power of language as he looks for the pull of the extraordinary within the ordinary. Resisting as he does the sometimes easy haven of either the religious or the secular aesthetic, Burnside appears to be offering us a kind of holy science. The Light Trap is a hugely ambitious collection which leads the reader through difficult ideas in a lyrical and seemingly effortless celebration of what it is to be human.

 

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