As I’m back in the groove of reading the Penguin Modern Poets series, I didn’t want to leave it too long before getting on to the next one, book 8 – and the added draw here was that it contained the first woman poet included in the series, who is also a poet I’ve read! As usual, I didn’t read up about the writers in advance, so all I had as I started reading was fuzzy memories of reading Smith back in my teens and twenties – well, or so I thought…

Edwin Brock (19 October 1927 – 7 September 1997)

Brock was a British poet who published ten volumes of poetry during his lifetime, and his work spoke to me instantly. His verse ranges across the personal political, and explores not only the complexities of personal relationships but also the changing shape of the world in which he was living. The works are drawn from a number of collections and also magazines, and often reflect the 1960s and 1970s; Brock, like a number of other poets I’ve read, was I sense too old to really embrace the swinging era, and so often observes it in a slightly puzzled way.

However, one poem really smacked me in the face as I read it: “5 Ways to Kill a Man” is a powerful and chilling piece of work which will stay with me. And then I got to the end of the Brock section and that last poem caused a lightbulb moment: it’s called “Song of the Battery Hen” and I’ve known it since my teens (and in fact typed it out in my younger years and had it displayed on my pinboard). I saw it at the time as a cry against battery farming and cruelty to animals; however, I read more into it now, with it suggesting state and political controls, and how adaptable human beings are to inhuman living conditions…

So I guess it isn’t surprising I responded so strongly to Brock’s verse, as I had actually read some before! Interestingly, when I looked him up after finishing the book, Wikipedia reveals that “5 Ways…” and “Song…” have been heavily used in anthologies. I can understand why – they’re stunning pieces of writing and I’m glad to have re-encountered Brock’s work.

Geoffrey Hill (18 June 1932 – 30 June 2016)

Hill is a poet who is *definitely* new to me, and the poor man had the misfortune to appear in this book immediately after a poet who very much affected me. However, that’s not to say his work isn’t good – it just didn’t grab me quite so strongly. His verse was a little more formal, a little more allusive, a little more full of references which needed following up than Brock and so therefore less immediate. It’s probably poetry which requires a bit more work than just a casual read, and I did notice that his work has been described as ‘difficult’. It’s his right, of course, to be as difficult as he likes with his writing, but I feel that there’s a risk of losing the casual reader.

Despite my reservations, I read that Hill was “considered to be among the most distinguished poets of his generation and was called the ‘greatest living poet in the English language‘.” That’s quite a claim, and perhaps I need to bear in mind that I’m seeing a snapshot at a particular point in time of these writers; Hill most probably wrote a lot more *after* this collection was published which might give me a different view. Nevertheless, poetry *is* a personal thing, and I shall continue to like what I like! 😀

Stevie Smith (20 September 1902 – 7 March 1971)

Stevie Smith (Akshay Nagaraju B, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

Does the wonderful Stevie Smith need any introduction? She was a remarkable and individual person, writing fiction and poetry, and memorable portrayed by Glenda Jackson on film (though I *did* once know someone who had known Stevie in real life, and he said the film was nothing like her….) Anyway – the selection here includes favourites like “Fafnir and the Knights”, “Night-time in the Cemetery” and, of course, “Not Waving But Drowning”.

Her voice flies away on the midnight wind,
But would she be happier if she were within?
She is happier far where the night-winds fall
And there are no doors and no windows at all.
(from “The Wanderer”)

Smith’s quirky and witty verse is a delight, and she’s not afraid to look at the darker side of things; there are hidden depths in her seemingly simple works and “Not Waving…” is I feel quite profound. I’ve had a go at re-reading Smith’s fiction in recent years, and did stall a little; I think I might have to be in the right mood for it. But her poetry is always a joy to revisit, and her appearance here very welcome!


PMP8 was a really enjoyable collection; one of my favourite so far, though it *did* set me wondering about how the compilers decided which three poets to feature in each collection. In many ways, this seemed an odd choice of poets to put together; and certainly with some of the others there seems to be a kind of cohesion, e.g. with the Beat volume and Mersey Sound volume both having poets coming from a similar angle or location. Brock, Hill and Smith, although all fine poets in their own right, seem a slightly mismatched trio..

Putting that aside, though, I’m happy to have read this particular collection; and the next one features another woman poet plus I think I have read two of the authors before – so that should be interesting! 😀