|Sarpedon, carried off by Sleep and Death|
Truly a masterpiece. There is a poem by Stephen Spender which contains the phrase "let him not see what I see in this room of miniature Iliad"; and Oswald has captured and shrunk the Iliad with vatic brilliance, the similes, repeated, weaving in and out of the deaths of the heroes with grace and beauty, obliquely bringing to life all that the men will miss when they are dead. Here the lowliest of soldiers is given space; here the sons of kings, prophets, shepherdesses and seals are levelled by the sword, even if you are Sarpedon, son of Zeus. Cold, monumental, yet imbued with light, containing a kind of sorcery, it's not only my poetry book of the year, but most probably my book of the year.
2. Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, trans. by John Ashbery
3. Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott
The Costa winner presented us with a collection full of liquid, joyous poems, including a lovely piece about Ovid: "everything he touched turned to song."
4. White Egrets by Derek Walcott
Another superlative collection, at once classical and sensuous, and richly evocative. The white egrets flitter through the verse as a motif of life, freedom and the approach of death.
5. The Wrecking Light by Robin Robertson
Robertson's quiet poetry is heightened by sudden violence or interesting word choices. His poems seethe with myth, and include (obviously good for me) two versions of Ovid: Pentheus and Dionysus, which shows, capably, the frenzy of inspiration; the second is the daughters of Minyas telling each other tales - in Robertson's hands they become almost fishwivey. 'That's tedious,' one says, after the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.
6. Night by David Harsent
Smooth, elegant, with some beautiful concordances and sounds: "monstrous and moonstruck," making a fine and sensitive collection.
7. Torchlight by Peter McDonald
There is a quiet power in this collection, also published by Carcanet, focusing around a translation of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which McDonald renders stark and vivid. There are also many lilting, numinous works, including 'Cheetah', which celebrates transience.
That's it for today chaps, see you tomorrow for my non-fiction of the year...