Nov­els? I’d rather have a life of rhyme

Any­thing prose can do, verse can do bet­ter, ar­gues Tris­tram Fane Saun­ders

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - CONTENTS -

Many read­ers were sur­prised when Robin Robert­son’s

(Pi­cador, £14.99), a noir epic in verse about a trau­ma­tised D-Day vet­eran, was short­listed for the Man Booker Prize. A poem storm­ing the gates of the rich­est award in fic­tion was a re­minder that un­like the novel, the cook­book or the me­moir, po­etry isn’t a genre. It is, as Au­den put it, “a way of hap­pen­ing”. Any­thing prose can do, verse can do bet­ter.

Take mil­i­tary his­tory. Rather than buy­ing an­other schol­arly and un­liftable tome this Christ­mas, try J O Mor­gan’s (Cape, £10), a page-turn­ing poem that draws on his fa­ther’s Cold War ser­vice in Bomber Com­mand, fly­ing the British nu­clear de­ter­rent in zigzags over the Arc­tic. Mor­gan in­ter­cuts ac­counts of those flights with haunting mono­logues in many voices, imag­in­ing what might hap­pen if the bombs fell.

Or bi­og­ra­phy. You won’t find a life of Kierkegaard warmer, wit­tier or – cru­cially – shorter than Mar­i­anne Bur­ton’s

(Seren, £9.99). This se­quence of son­nets is the per­fect bluffer’s hand­book. It por­trays the Dan­ish philoso­pher with love, with­out be­com­ing a ha­giog­ra­phy – un­like Anne Wroe’s splen­did

(Cape, £16.99), a “life in songs” of St Fran­cis of As­sisi, which quite lit­er­ally is just that.

Devo­tees of travel writ­ing will be itch­ing to book a mini­break af­ter read­ing Si­mon Ar­mitage’s ac­count of a year in the his­toric city of “Ysp”. But read­ers of his (York­shire Sculp­ture Park, £15.00) should be tipped off by the pub­lisher’s ini­tials that he might be pulling your leg.

If Stephen Hawk­ing’s last book opened your eyes to sci­ence This en­gross­ing, anec­dote-filled study shows how the Nazis tried to present Ger­many’s best (and most Aryan) face to the world at their Olympics. (Bod­ley Head) writ­ing, Re­becca El­son’s reis­sued

(Car­canet, £12.99) will open your heart to it. The Cana­dian physi­cist, who died in 1999, de­scribed the ex­pand­ing uni­verse in sim­ple, el­e­gant po­ems, while ex­cerpts from her note­books re­veal a fever­ish mind at work. Us­ing the Hub­ble te­le­scope, she saw in its warped lens “The sky so full of wings/ There is no sky”.

For sci-fi fans, Suzan­nah Evans’s

(Nine Arches, £9.99) is es­sen­tial read­ing. There are plug-in cities and a ro­botic black­bird (“his elec­tric beak a bright nib”), but she also sees fu­tur­is­tic weird­ness in the ev­ery­day: “Of course they dream of free­dom,” be­gins her ode to Lon­don’s sewer-bound fat­bergs.

Abi­gail Parry’s se­duc­tive (Blood­axe, £9.95) de­serves ev­ery hor­ror award go­ing. Mon­sters, mas­quer­ades and B-movie stars are all ser­e­naded in in­fec­tious rhythm and rhyme. It’s the most ex­cit­ing de­but of the year, only matched for deliri­ous en­ergy by Kaveh Ak­bar’s

(Pen­guin, £9.99), in which the re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic wards off his de­mons through sheer force of in­ven­tion.

Mean­while, Danez Smith’s For­ward Prize-win­ning

(Chatto, £10.99) opens with a Mil­tonic vi­sion of an af­ter­life for black boys killed by guns which might just be 2018’s best poem. Other high­lights of the year in­clude the Heaneyesque lyri­cism of British-In­dian poet Zaf­far Ku­nial’s ac­com­plished de­but (Faber, £10.99), and the shape-shift­ing po­ems of an­i­mals and art in

(Car­canet, £9.99) by Vahni Capildeo, who also pops up in

Cup­board Fran­cis Take The Long As­sur­ances Kierkegaard’s Flit by Oliver Hilmes A Re­spon­si­bil­ity to Awe Near Fu­ture Jinx Call­ing a Wolf a Wolf Call Us Dead Us Don’t Venus as a Bear The Pen­guin Book of the Prose Poem,

ed Jeremy Noel-Tod (Pen­guin, £25). Start­ing in the present, this eye-open­ing vol­ume traces the sub­ver­sive his­tory of an odd hy­brid form back 150 years to Baude­laire and Aloy­sius Ber­trand. Hav­ing given prose a kick­ing ear­lier, I’ll con­cede an ex­cep­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.