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Review of 'All The Poems'15 August 2006
Herbert Lomas, AMBIT magazinePrevious review of 'All The Poems'... To the 'All The Poems' page...
'...I have always thought of myself as a poet,' wrote the late Muriel Spark. 'I do not write 'poetic' prose, but feel that my outlook on life and perceptions of events are those of a poet...' Nor did she write 'poetic' poetry. She looks at whatever's there, puts it down, and the flat rhymes and rhythms become rounded.
Anyone in this top-floor flat
This morning, might look out upon
An oblong canvas of Kensington
Almost ready for looking at.
That was 1951, about the tiome of her first volume, and a couple of years after relinquiching editorship of Poetry Review. In 2000 the music is different and the novelists character-collecting eye is at work. The young sales girl in the jewlellers fondles the beads - 'sad,sad,/ to part with such a small but/ undeniable treasure'. 'She has not slept well. Her little/ black dress was hastily donned, and the half-/ circles are drooping under her eyes.' 'Facts' (2003) has had an eye for a story: 'an outcast son' has murdered his family:
Yes, shot them all - pointed out graves,
can't find bodies.
What happened to the cat?
The poems aren't self-revelatory: they look at things, history and people, collecting experiences with a careful but detached eye. Her 'classical' reserve doesn't give away much. The epigrammatic 'Faith and Works' (1957) is about as much as she'll reveal.
My friend is always doing Good
But doubts the meaning of her labour,
While I by faith am much imbued
And can't be bothered with my Neighbour
These mortal heresies in us
Friendship makes orthodox and thus
We are the truest Saints alive
As near as two and two makes five.
'On the lack of sleep' (1965) is distinctly warmer but very little's uncovered in spite of the opening:
Lying on the roof of everything i listen
To the breath of ambition in her sleep, to the gasp of rancour
Turning in her dream. And the parting of lovers, the coming together
Of old divisions, the meeting and retreating of partners
Cease, though I do not sleep.
Still, there are dreams, and other hints, and points of view, and there's abundance of stories, individual perceptions, reports of human failings, witty intelligence, of course, worldly wisdom and defamiliarisation. She has a hand with forms, and admirers of her novels will find more of what they admire in these professional hundred and twenty pages, approximately dated, but not arranged chronologically. A good memorial to a fine writer.
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