Speak, Old Parrot (Hutchinson 66pp £15), a delight published in Dannie Abse’s ninetieth year, is not, I hope, a swansong. It’s a book packed with both feeling and swagger, a tumbling energy that belies the closing farewell: ‘Now, I’m tired and you nest elsewhere./Bird, your cage is empty.’ Though that poem is entitled ‘Gone?’, the question mark makes the kind of promise Robert Graves made, closing one of his collections on ‘a careless comma’.
This gathering is a cavalcade of memories and tributes: for his lost wife, as lit and beautiful in ‘Sunbright’ as she was in the Venetian room long ago, ‘so alive with human light/I was dazzled black’; for his brother Leo; for the casual customers who drift in and out of L’artista, his chosen restaurant. Abse disingenuously casts himself as the timid one, the man in ‘the mildew of age’, but his poems are vigorous affirmations. In ‘Bluebells’, young Dannie listens to his friend Keith shouting his denial of God’s existence to a tunnel’s vault, yet, bluebells stuffed in their bike baskets, they emerge ‘blessed in the unanswering light of the world’; there is a mysterious beneficence in ‘The Bus’ as this wonderful vehicle makes a twilit journey