A major voice in contemporary verse, Carol Rumens is admired as much for her technical brilliance as for the range, breadth and subtlety of her subject matter. You might find a sonnet, a sestina, a villanelle but you'll also chance across a pantoum or a ghazal, or a fluid free verse poem where birdsong flickers off the edges of the page. Most uncommonly, these poems are informed by a consciousness that is as fiercely personal and tender as it is public-minded and political. The result is often a thrilling tension of opposites: a romance that teeters on the brink of fulfilment, or shirts that suddenly 'speak' an elegiac chorus from a clothesline on the Gaza Strip.
This particular book is divided into two parts. Part one: 'Thinking about Montale by the River Hull', is a series of 'muse' poems that are inspired by lines or images from the Italian poet, Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) and also influenced by the Hull-based poet, Philip Larkin (1922-1985). Rumens has captured and re-interpreted Montale's passionate, resonant tone and artfully transposes his sun-drenched Tuscany to the cool, grey environs of the East Yorkshire river. The central themes of these poems: longing, inspiration, unrequited desire, aging, change are beautifully surmised in this important sequence.
The longer Part 2 opens with a more typically witty account of an engagement between the protagonist's hand, "painter of eyes, grasper of nettles, money-masseuse, reviser of stories", and the hungry mouth of a newborn baby. Here poems vary between quick family portraits, pointed observations and musings on landscapes and seasons, several sharp political pieces, including one short lyric where floodwater puddles seem to resemble war-torn continents, a few more inspired by Larkin, and poems that are admixtures of themes, and, using multi-layered vocabularies, seek to unsettle our prejudices and thwart conventional expectations.
"There is no word out of place . . . This collection will be read decades from now."
"It's a treat to read a poet whose Muse dances so joyfully, alongside scholarship, through these pages."
Artemis, May 09