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Review: The Icon Maker, by Paul Stubbs

Paul Stubbs is a poet of the sacred; more particularly he is a poet of the absconded God, almost in the moment that the deity leaves the world. As he says in the title poem,

After the crucifixion I found
that there was very little new
work, so, forced to wait for
the body of the next God to die,

I did this: I went back into my studio,
to create masks, and to feel the weight

again in clay of an unknown
man pass from between my palms,

As you can see from this extract, Stubbs is a vivid, technically adventurous writer; he breaks his lines with violent enjambments, and imbues his lines with a dense muscularity. Often there is a strenuous re-folding of syntax and coherence. In Without Philosophy he writes,

As God himself he abandons them the moulds
for the mouths that might still vocally re-
fute him; while all myths they
are confirm now to be lies...

The overall effect is one of intensity and vision and writing that links in with the paintings of Francis Bacon that Stubbs often uses as starting points. Bacon's extreme vision that culminated in Three Screaming Popes seems entirely appropriate as a backdrop to Stubbs' writing.

Stubbs is offering something radically new in contemporary British poetry. Although religious writing is undergoing a revival in the hands of Les Murray, Michael Symmons Robert, and others, Stubbs takes the courage of his convictions and pushes the language to contain them. The result is thrilling, vital and endlessly absorbing.