Micro-reviews (3): billy casper’s tears

Paul Summers, billy casper’s tears (Smokestack) £7.99

Next up in the ‘Just give us a sentence – please! Stop! Please – just a sentence will do! Please just stop!’-that-turned-into-a-review-anyway category is this appraisal of Paul Summer’s new book, published May 1st.

In billy casper’s tears major modes and themes work dynamically with each other, setting keening elegy for individuals against a backdrop of lament for those generations dealing with hardship and neglect in the coastal and estuarial North-East.

Just as keenly, it evokes the changeable nuances and, sometimes, blunt unsubtleties of the environment, both weather and wildlife. And just as vividly, it reaches back into industrial and maritime history, drawing subtly on the eschatological force of Norse myth.

Its sharp and tender exchanges with its subjects therefore seem underpinned with a visionary aim: how may verse counter the distant indifference of power? This sense of purpose creates a second driving synergy between musicality and anger.

The poetry, in short, is in the fury, but stemming from a place where craft is renewed as much by compassion as by long-held conviction – hence both the eloquence of the demand for redress and the seemingly effortless directness which which these poems touch our emotional core.

As the references to Blake and Brecht imply, rather than mere feel-good right-thinkingness, there is here a righteous anguish which singles this work out as radical, renewing, and indispensable.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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