Merryn Williams is reminded of some traditional poetic virtues when reading the latest book by Simon Curtis.

Comet over Greens Norton: New and Selected Poemscurtiss
Simon Curtis
Shoestring Press
ISBN: 978 1 907356 81 0
 £10

 

Simon Curtis is a traditional poet in the best sense of the word.  Most of his verses rhyme, and his structures are sometimes, like Larkin’s, quite complex, but they are written in ordinary English and can be understood by anyone.  ‘What price old virtues, thrift, good husbandry?’, as he asks.

Hardy is a major influence (he used to edit the Thomas Hardy Journal), but now he notes that Hardy’s thrush is an endangered species and people are doing their best to ruin his landscape (‘Darkling Thrush – BOCC’ and ‘Dorchester Rural’).  Plenty of things are going on which he doesn’t like; literature is dominated by ‘suits’, bankers are running amok.  But he handles these things with a light touch and can be very funny, as in a wry Shakespearean sonnet, ‘Egg’:

I could hear a youth in the passing car
Guffaw to his friend as he chucked the egg,
Fantastically funny, oh ha ha ha,
When it hit me, splat, knee-high on the leg.
My cords sticky-smeared with wet from the yolk,
I’d become, on my way to the pub that night,
The butt of some morons’ practical joke,
Aware of the threat in their whoops of delight
As their car roared off past a thirty sign.

I don’t know what Plymouth is coming to –
It happened last week to a friend of mine –
The landlady said in the Fortescue,
As she kindly produced a warm damp cloth
To wipe the goo and bits of eggshell off.

There are also several poems of mourning and remembrance – a mother with Alzheimer’s, a family home closed down, a brother and friends prematurely dead.  But he deals with the pain without sentimentality and with a brave acceptance of what cannot be changed.  ‘Sorting the Papers Out’, appears to be about his parents:

Words of marital strife and hurt
In letters found by chance, and read,
Can’t help but touch and disconcert,
Though those involved are all now dead.

High time to bin the letters, so
The pain at last is locked away
For good from sixty years ago?
I don’t think kin should have to pay

Such bygone sorts of family debt.
Forbearance, then.  Forgive.  Forget.

Sometimes dreadful news erupts into an ordinary day, as in ‘In Memoriam A.M.’ Or he is driving to a funeral, glimpses a lone angler, and wishes that he too was on the river:

You lived nearby, and surely would have known
The glimpse, my sense of seize the day and live –
The silvered Tyne, the salmon coming home –
Would understand, lost friend, and would forgive.

Again, I admire his stoicism.

There are plenty of fine descriptions of nature, like the crowfoot blossoms, ‘bright as lace’, which ‘star a Berkshire stream’, or ‘the dirtiest river in all Europe’.  There are tributes to Matthew Arnold the school inspector, Thomas Bewick, and a half-forgotten painter, William Payne.  It’s one of the best collections I have seen for quite some time.