Deltas by Leonie Rushforth; Vinegar Hill by Colm Tóibín; Joie de vivre by Paul Bailey - review by Stephen Romer

Stephen Romer

Late Style



Prototype Publishing 55pp £12

Vinegar Hill


Carcanet 143pp £12.99

Joie de vivre


CB editions 83pp £10

The expression ‘late flowering’ when applied to poets (or artists in general) usually means a creative release brought about by a combination of fully mastered technique, a new sense of freedom, a recklessness even, once the individual’s reputation has been established. In our day, Geoffrey Hill must be the great example, along with J H Prynne, who has recently been showering his admirers with brightly coloured pamphlets. In the case of the three poets under review here, though, ‘late flowering’ means publishing a collection for the first time over the age of sixty-five. Paul Bailey and Colm Tóibín are novelists who have secretly yearned since their tender years to be poets. Leonie Rushforth is something else: a poet who has worked largely in the poetry world all these years without gathering her poems in a collection. It is sweet indeed to discover a mature poet whose gift is fully formed, and sweeter still when the poet has waited so many years before deciding to publish.

To read the poems in Deltas, a modest volume of fifty-five pages, is to find oneself instantly held in a force field. The currents between the words combine with a sense of metaphysical and emotional pressure that informs them from below the surface. There is the feeling of entering in medias res into a deep and difficult conversation that has been going on for long years. There are oblique poems about family that reminded me in their force of Ian Hamilton’s searing lyrics. In one poem, Rushforth reports from the end of life, the lives of her parents:

Ineffable anger rose from all surfaces
when we were small.
Mercy is guilt’s solvent. Let us not
receive what we say we deserve.

In the wonderful short poem ‘Attendant’, an image of radio telescopes listening for potential signals from outer space segues into a memory of the poet at the age of two looking up through baffled tears, as an astronomer might at numbers ‘trickling down her screen like salt’. We do

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