The Venetian Vespers by Anthony Hecht; The Strange Museum by Tom Paulin; The Equal Skies by Norman MacCaig - review by James Lasdun

James Lasdun

Spiced and Curious

The Venetian Vespers


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The Strange Museum


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The Equal Skies


Chatto and Windus 64pp order from our bookshop

In the introduction to his poems, George Chapman wrote: ‘it serves not a skilful painter's turn, to draw the figure of a face only to make known who it represents; but he must limn it, give lustre, shadow and heightening; which though ignorants will esteem spiced, and too curious, yet such as have the judicial perspective, will see it hath motion, spirit and life,' and it serves well as an introduction to the work of the American poet Anthony Hecht, whose fourth volume The Venetian Vespers places him firmly in the forefront of contemporary poetry. With a vocabulary as rich and strange as Hart Crane's, and an imaginationion and intelligence well beyond the scope of that writer, he has produced a narrative poem of thirty pages (the title-work of this volume) which is virtually unique among contemporary long poems, in that at it never sags or diffuses into ponderous rumination, but consistently impels the reader forward with a force that is part rhetorical, and part the urgency of a man who has found, in his response to Venice, access to the thing that affects him most vitally; a sense of the world as at once grotesque and beautiful.

His ability to make this world palpable – to 'limn it, give lustre, shadow and heightening' – is astonishing, whether in the meticulously rendered image:

… six waterdrops
Slung in suspension, sucking into themselves
As if it were some morbid nourishment,
The sagging blackness of the rail itself

or through the suggestiveness of his baroque

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