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Review: Wheel, by Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill is professor of English at Durham University and the author of a number of books on Romantic literature, especially the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was co-editor of Poetry Durham from 1982-1994 and published his first collection of poems, The Stripped Bed, in 1990. Sometimes the wheel of inspiration turns slowly but it's been worth the wait for this, his second collection, in which wheels figure in a multitude of subtle forms.

The poems, technically and emotionally mature, are peppered with literary allusions to the likes of Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, TS Eliot, Jonathan Swift, Keith Douglas and that princess of waxy perfection Sylvia Plath. At 55, he writes wistfully of a room with a desk / two chairs and a nip of despair and talks of Too many friendships lost, too / many acquaintances made and aphorisms such as: The British lose all battles save the last.

He dreams of a young blonde in a gold sports car / purring past ruined buildings lit by flames; remembers the railings where, head over heels in love / while tanks crushed Prague and Lucy sowed / the sky with diamonds and ends on the first note of a song he's never heard. Let's hope the wheel turns more quickly now and we won't have to wait another 18 years for his third collection.