When it comes to reading my first – and usually last – port of call is a novel. I also read short stories but only when time (away from novels) allows and in order to improve my own short story craft. But every now and then I have a poetry ‘season’ which usually arrives out of nowhere and eventually recedes as I gravitate back to fiction. Last time I had one must be almost ten years ago when I indulged in the Staying Alive which I liked because it combined traditional poets with more contemporary ones. If I say my favourite poems from that book are by T.S. Eliot, Wendy Cope, Simon Armitage and R.S. Thomas you’ll know I’m not hugely adventurous in my tastes but with poetry even more than with fiction you know what you like.
So, what I like now, is Shirley Wright’s book of poems which came out last year The Last Green Field although I find it as hard to say what I like about them as I would do with any of the poets mentioned above. The thing about poetry is that if you like it, it feels as if it has been written just for you, and that makes it a huge source of comfort and pleasure when it happens. Knowing Shirley as a contributor to Unchained, the poems in this collection are actually a lot more varied than I expected, summoning up a big cast of characters and situations. And although there is a kind of thematic unity, it’s not that of the eco-warrior as the title might suggest. Lots of them, like Galahad and Past Imperfect made me laugh with neat twists in the tail. Some are conversational in tone and others like Midnight in Harris almost entirely descriptive. All of them rest on the most acute observation of events, people and nature and the ability to render this into a few stunning lines. I could tell you now that my other favourites are Getting On, The Last Green Field and the haunting Call of Home but that’s only on a first reading.
Because here’s the thing. How many novels have you reread? In my case only a few. But in this slim volume of poems there will be many that I reread time and time again, with favourites rising to the top and being replaced with new ones, according to the season or my own moods.
So, on a more prosaic note, not just good for the soul, but excellent value for money!