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Unearthly Toys

Poems and Masks

Ned Denny

Unearthly Toys Cover
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Categories: 21st Century, British, First Collections
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (88 pages)
(Pub. Feb 2018)
9781784105389
£12.99 £11.69
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(Pub. Feb 2018)
9781784105396
£10.39 £9.35
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  • Description
  • Author
  • Awards
  • Reviews
  • Winner of the 2019 Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize

    Ned Denny’s Unearthly Toys are treacherous playthings, as rigorously structured as they are thematically unsettling, a ‘rhapsody of rags gathered from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled about’ (as Robert Burton dubbed his Anatomy of Melancholy).

    The collection opens on a twilit, numinous world of exotic drugs, subterranean drums and visionary apprehension in which – to quote Twin Peaks, a recurrent leitmotif – ‘the woods are wondrous … but strange’. Interspersed with original poems in a variety of complex forms is a series of illuminated and darkly erotic ‘remakes’ of other poets’ work, from the Old English classic The Wanderer to late Baudelaire via Goethe, Cavalcanti, Li Po, enigmatic troubadour lyrics, and the medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen. Politics are never far away: modern man’s severance from the earth, the sacred, and his own inner self has grave consequences.
    Ned Denny was born in London in 1975. His debut poetry collection, Unearthly Toys: Poems & Masks, was published by Carcanet in 2018 and awarded the Seamus Heaney Prize for Best First Collection for the following year. B (After Dante), a version of the Divine Comedy, appeared in 2021. ... read more
    Awards won by Ned Denny Winner, 2019  Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize (Unearthly Toys)
     'Ned Denny is a gifted troubadour who has crossed the ages. Unearthly Toys is formidably learned and formally exacting, but his versions are vividly imaginative and original. This is a book of great beauty and conceptual power: extremely clever but also haunting, proving again that formal requirements such as sestinas can be as much of a liberation as a constraint.'
    Bernard O'Donoghue
    'An earthly joy and a staggering debut... at times truly startling'
    Andrew McNeillie, Clutag Press/Archipelago
    'As among the most inventive translators of Dante - watch this space - Denny as a poet goes to Hell and back time after time, with immense verve and authority.'
    New Italian Studies
    'See, for a long time - since I reached these far-away shores, some thirteen years ago - I have been looking for a book of poems. A book of poems. One book of poems that had 'great beauty and conceptual power'. The quest and the drought are finally over. The spell was broken by a book that arrived yesterday, bringing Unearthly Toys down under. Ned Denny's poems are magnificent and so are his versions. This book is a blessing... that Catullus as opener, the Cavalcanti, Cloud... and what about the mesmerizing Waking? But for now I'll pick Fir. It is a powerful book precisely because it originates in the 'thickest of thickets', where truth is to be found and offered - and found it he has, and offered it he has, so gracefully, lightly (as in Calvino's definition of lightness) and truthfully... truthful to himself and to the things and the poems themselves.'
    Marco Sonzogni, Senior Lecturer in Italian, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
      'Ned Denny's Unearthly Toys: Poems and Masks is an interesting and destabilising read. It is a charming yet, at times, dark inspection of life where each consecutive poem builds upon the themes that have already been introduced, and adds to the diversity of techniques and form ... Denny provides a somewhat indirect commentary on the darker aspects of our lives and thoughts, drugs, death, love, and more. Yet, at no point does he display a sense of apathy or hopelessness amidst the grim demeanour.'
    James Mork, Dundee University Review of the Arts


    Praise for Ned Denny 'The emergence of the London-based poet Ned Denny has been a light in the darkness of the last four years'
    John McEwan, The Catholic Herald
    'By looking close and listening hard, you discover a new and very remarkable poet. He is a real find. Find him.'
    Michael Edwards, Academie Francaise
    'Both brilliant and inspiring... it filled me with hope.'
    Paul Kingsnorth
    'The haikai sequence of "Equinox" floods us with pastoral delights. "To the Fates" gives us three beseeching quatrains of reverence, almost like an extended Japanese death poem. Saying that, of particular note is the rhyming "A Dam," a reduced villanelle of sorts that at one point uses a clever homonymic phrase to retain its form... undoubtedly, these poems do stand on their own, and sing to us a song of warning and remembrance, to not rush into our new "iron age" of modernity, but to stop and recall a simpler time of light, and of a kinder humanity.'
    Colin Dardis, Everybody's Reviewing

     'the best Commedia in English that I know... a miraculous achievement'
    Alberto Manguel
     'B sings overwhelmingly in Dante's key - not least because the poets share an urgent sense of moving through chaos to the order of ultimate meaning... the Commedia is a story whose true nature has long fallen on deaf ears, but this individual and passionate rendition may sound just the right note to restore them'
    Sally Read, Times Literary Supplement
    'A racily tailored and trimmed version of The Divine Comedy in its entirety. Has any poet ever played so fast and loose with Dante's characters and landscapes? For all its wildness, it brings over much of the spirit and the fervour of the original.'

    Michael Glover, The Tablet

    'This is a work of exquisite detail, melding exceptional poetic skill with a lightly worn depth of knowledge and panoptic observation of the world [...] It is rare to read such poetry that entertains as an Epic should, yet also has a sense of attention to each and every syllable.' 

    Ed Bedford, The Indiependent 

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