The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
Michael McCarthy was born on a farm in West Cork. At the heart of his new collection At the Races (Smith/Doorstop, Â£8.95) is a series of touching but unsentimental poems about growing up in rural Ireland, notably Our House, To School, Knitting, English Exam and Learning.
Best of all is the beautiful The Fields, in which he recalls how he taught himself to read "the fields and the run of the land" and "the grammar of the grass," "the pathway that ran straight as a story," "autumn fields lyrical with oats, verses of barley in stooks" and turnips like "exclamation marks on frozen ground."
McCarthy is really good at making poetry out of the remembered details of ordinary things so they add up to more than the sum of their parts. He writes with great care and economy, never overloading the poems with facts and never forcing the meaning at the end.
Imagining his death in Last Will And T, McCarthy itemises the few things he wishes to leave to others - "And to you my high horse, I leave/this original saddle ... and what's left of the morning air/to the ducks in the water-lilied lake. And I leave the ring of my doorbell/to the empty room ... To the rest/I leave the benefit of the doubt/Now and at the hour of my death. Perfect.
The haiku is of course the model of poetic precision. Alexis Lykiard's Haiku of Five Decades (Anarchios Press, Â£8) consists of 124 haiku, including several connected sequences.
Lykiard allows himself to vary the number of syllables in his haiku, permitting him a greater range of tone and subject matter.
They range from the descriptive ("Aggressive tinkle/pissing metal: tiny flow/from an old walkman") to the playful ("Purposeful black cat/pursues and plays with her pre/Purr ... puss full") and the epigrammatic - "Blood is thicker than/water, so the old saw goes/but watch out for the clots!"
Some are irreverent ("Rule Walcott out. Ruth/rues dumb words. Chairless she goes/Shit creek! No Paddle") some are political ("Shameless as ever/the pursuit of quick profit/puts paid to our world") and some are punchy - "L'Angleterre/contre la guerre/a bas Blair."
Andrew McMillan's Every Salt Advance (Sand/Red Squirrel, Â£4) is a small pamphlet of short poems in a very small lower-case font.
McMillan can write with great economy of phrase. So a man carries books "like the rubble/of a frantic library."
Rain is stretched over the city "like a poncho/strained against the/fat paunch of a tourist."
An unemployed friend "smiled when he was signing on/proud not of what he was/but what he might become."
Despite the hard-to-read font, it's worth buying just for Dad, Genealogy and the fantastic 6:30am - "sleep had been singular/so long/that on waking next to him/I felt like the submariner resurfacing/amazed to find the world survived/with so much air/such tundra of sky."
Alan Morrison's Keir Hardie Street (Smokestack, Â£7.95) consists of two long poems.
The title poem tells the story of Allan Jackdaw, an unremembered early 20th-century poet, who undertakes a fantastical journey on the hidden Sea-Green Line of the London Underground accompanied by the ghosts of Blake, Tressell and John Davidson.
The second, Clocking-in For The Witching Hour, explores the twilight world of the 21st-century night-shift worker, the exhaustion and boredom, the bleak and wretched loneliness of those who each morning "snail back home/in muttering cars/down empty roads/to beds warmed by impressions of wives/sink into pillows/for six blessed hours/dream better shifts/than punished lives..."