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Our Worst Suspicions

John Birtwhistle

Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (64 pages)
(Pub. Jun 1972)
Out of Stock
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  • Excerpt
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    Hail Mary

    after Yannis Ritsos

    Step down Our Lady of the salt fish-eyes
    Of the hand smoked over by complaints of the poor
    And from all the years that this has gone on

    Down in rockpools love is waiting for you
    The seagull hangs your sooty icon in his cave
    The jealous urchin stabs up at your feet

    Come lady clutching the eggs of lightning
    The grandmother grasps a knife in her wrinkled pleat
    The roots of the olive are on the boil

    Some seablue day you will take off your scarf
    Take up the daggers of your silvery sorrows
    For the hail of May to strike you head-on

    For sun to split as the pomegranate
    On your sailcloth apron as you share out the sun
    To your dozens of orphans seed by seed

    Scouring the shore so it gleams like a blade
    Or as the snows that glisten in spring so the crab
    Comes out to sun himself and his claws cross


    Advice to a Ruler

    Sir, the present life of man
    in the face of unknown time
    seems like this:
                                    a winter's night,
    you at supper with your wise
    and strong men, a hearty fire
    warming the room, while outside
    rage storms of hail and rain

    and this lonely sparrow comes fluttering in,
    flits out again ...
                                     In through this door
    and out by that.
                                     For the time being
    shielded from Winter's anger,
    his refuge passes in a flash

    winging from winter into winter
    we lose him from our glimpse of light
    into that darkness, as he came.

    This is John Birtwhistle’s first collection of poems since Tidal Models (1980). Its energy and concentration come out of an interest in a wide variety of formal models – from Chinese lyrics and Imagism to Anglo-Saxon riddles and Surrealism – and an appreciation of certain key twentieth-century radical poets: Breton, Eluard, Ho Chi Minh, Neruda, Ritsos and Fortini. Political disquiet, expressive tenderness, and a care for ordering, edge against each other in the poetry. Dennis O’Driscoll commented in Hibernia that ‘a sweeping imagination ranges over past and future, pastoral and urban themes.’ Reviewing his last book, John Heath-Stubbs described Birtwhistle as ‘an ambitious and original poet, not afraid to take chances’, singling out a group of poems on Conamara as ‘altogether admirable for their exact and loving observation.’

    John Birtwhistle was born in Scunthorpe in 1946. His poetry has been recognized by an Eric Gregory Award, an Arts Council bursary, Arts Council creative writing Fellowships, a Fellowship at the University of Southampton and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has had three concert libretti set and performed: David Blake’s ... read more
    Praise for John Birtwhistle [Birtwhistle's] work is consistently both shaped and calm, and energised by the various tides it travels.
    Carol Rumens

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