Last week, another collection that was a gift from Katharine – my most faithful supplier of poetry. Thank you!
I really enjoyed George Szirtes’ T.S. Eliot prize-winning Reel, although its length (combined with moving house and holiday) meant that I spent longer reading it than I’d have liked – it’s nice to get the sense of a collection by reading it over a week or five days.
What immediately struck me on reading Reel was that the first four poems and the first grouping, ‘Flesh’ (which together account for almost half the book) are written entirely in terza rima, which is quite some feat, I think; its difficult to find so many rhymes in English. But the poet pulls it off – the near-rhymes make it more subtle – and the overall effect is organic, supple, fluid.
‘Flesh: an early family history’ is a fantastic sequence, with layer upon layer of voices. This first section of the book had a real sense of the kind of sweet melancholy that I associate with early childhood, something that’s very hard to put into words and that for me seems absolutely wedded to poetry in some way, so I found the dedication – ‘To the ghost of childhood and the body of the adult’ – very fitting.
The terza rima eventually gives way to the sonnet, another quite precise form. I have to say I love the sonnet – both to read and to write myself – and I deeply enjoyed Szirtes’ mastery of it (partly because it validates my own taste, I suppose). Not many of the collections I’ve read this year feature more than a sonnet or two; none are composed of this many.
I loved ‘The Sound of the Radio’ from ‘Secret Languages’ in ‘Flesh’, and the sonnet-sequence ‘Turquoise’. Here is a beautiful sonnet, ‘The Breasts’:
She gathered up her breasts in her two hands
like small explosions, a soft outward flow,
a timing device that anytime could blow.
So life hangs on the slenderest of strands,
a lover’s hunger can seem all of it,
a child, an image in the mirror, hope,
the way a back, or pair of hips might slope,
or how two closing bodies click and fit.
Time is always against us. Youth slips down
the polished shoulder like a loosening strap.
She looked down from her bosom to her lap
and ran her palms over her dressing gown,
her mirrored face drowned in a cloud of dust:
How beautiful, she thought, and how unjust.
The poet reads some of his pieces here.