Christopher Reid moves between the most serious considerations of love and death – as in A Scattering, his elegiac tribute to his wife – and entertainments, where he tumbles skittishly about in the playground of words. Six Bad Poets (Faber & Faber 96pp £12.99) is his Dunciad, the dissection of a London zoo where Pope’s ‘Maggots half-form’d, in rhyme exactly meet,/And learn to crawl upon poetic feet’. The cast are movers and shakers in intersecting coteries: Charles Prime, an old survivor of beds, booze and brawls; Antonia Candling, a perfectly arranged arranger; Jonathan Wilderness with his ‘bangles, pony-tail, all that monkeyshines’; Derek Dufton, a poet-critic paralysed in academe; Jane Steep, a fledgling ‘just out of uni’; and Bryony Butters, anthologist and general-purpose writer, somewhere nel mezzo del cammin (‘midway upon the journey’). Christopher Reid gives his assorted genital networkers, party-poppers and insecure vanity-mongers their own dance to the music of time, each pirouetting to a comeuppance or quittance before they and their books are remaindered.
The carousel’s hub is 77-year-old Charles. Incorrigible, parading the shreds of a reputation, he is prey to the nefarious machinations of the other poetasters, for whom poetry itself is a means rather than an end, though one of them manages to escape to where ‘Vaughan Williamsy England in all its