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,
This month's new poetry releases.
DON'T let the fact that Jen Hadfield's Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe, Â£7.95) won last year's TS Eliot Prize put you off. It's a strong book of poems about hard work and hard travelling, from ice-fishing in Canada to working in a fish factory on Shetland.
Hadfield guts the natural world to reveal a wild, hard, musical poetry, as in Ten-Minute Break Haiku. "Gut-worms, christ! Still I/pluck them from the membranes/one by one."
The book is worth buying for two poems alone - an equine version of the Lord's Prayer ("Give us our daily wheat, wet/Whiskers in the sonorous bucket") and a wonderful poem about the operatic life of the seashore "I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide/to mind me what my poetry's for."
Hadfield is especially good at visual similes. A polar bear wears a "moonsuit," long-johns are soggy "like bread pudding," a limpet moves "a devastating millimetre" and a hedgehog is a "very small Hell's Angel, peeled from the verge/of a sweet, slurred morning."
By contrast, Alan Morrison is less interested in showing us what the world looks like than in telling us what it means.
In one of the opening poems of A Tapestry Of Absent Sitters (Waterloo Press, Â£9) he explicitly rejects the "understated take/on what has to be said, by not saying it."
Morrison writes in a rich, Miltonic voice, heavy with anger and prophecy. Britain is a "mossbacked Kingdom" owned and policed by the "blazered ranks" of the "straw-boatered," "privilege-peppered classes."
The socialist tradition is a caged and broken animal. "Splinters thorn the mangy lion's paw -/Once vigorous as granite, atlas planted... In binds, its bald paws molting alopecia/Lifeless as snow, splayed, rag-tagged... shambling aimlessly from distance to distance."
Against this, Morrison summons the ghosts of "dreamers and altruists" like Robert Owen, Bob Smillie, Nye Bevan, Thomas Hardy, William Morris, the Brontes, Christopher Caudwell, Marx and Gorky.
At the heart of the book is a series of clever acrostics in praise of political and cultural radicals from John Davidson, John Lilburne, Keir Hardie, Vaughan Williams and Robert Tressell to Gerard Winstanley. "Grown from the common soil, crop-haired, green/Egalitarian, made of clod and light/Rainbow-sown. A trampler in the patchwork... Leveller, tripping your ungrounded age/Elevated above the hedges, those berries/You reached for are ripening on the page."