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Review: Blood / Sugar, by James Byrne

James Byrne, 32, is something of a blazing comet on the British, poetry scene. He is editor of the influential poetry magazine The Wolf, he has edited anthologies for Bloodaxe and Carcanet and his first collection of
poems, Passages of Time, was published by Flipped Eye in 2003. This is his second volume of verse.

Like much of the work he chooses for his own magazine, this is not particularly easy stuff. If his poetry were a sofa, it would have clean, clear and contemporary lines - think Le Corbusier in leather and chrome - rather than something soft, cosy and traditional. Because this is a book glistening with poetic intelligence: the author's thoughts as well as the melodies of his music shine through every line.

Here he is in Days of 1973 (I'll tell you, but not here):

But the mind - cunning enough to act on love -
audits and impels history,
mosses every stone.

Here he is in A Private Garden:

Seated between the knuckled limbs of the tree house, I spied
on a swarm of wasps
nuzzling at apples; their glassy colour-code and spoiling tails
cranked with venom.

And here he is in Dowry for an Aerophobic:

Silvering mineral.
The cat's-eye winks
from its luteous coat.

His poetry is clean, clear and contemporary; it cuts to the bone of the beast every time. He returns to the image of wasps in Widowed/Unwidowed:

This is the year of the wasp
of apples sung to the core

and elsewhere observes:

Between flights and cities,
beyond the laps of mothers
and the tactical silence of old men.

He does eroticism rather well, too, as in Sanchez de Aldama:

Soon she'll hook herself over my knees
and we'll lay claim to an honest life
until punished by the logic of the Gods.

And in The Minister's Daughter he confesses:

In the heat wave of '91
no one suspected a thing.
Your father (who worked / vigorously for Our Father)
would return from the ministry
in his clapped-out Renault,
and we'd hear it crunching
up the gravel fifty yards away.

She leaps out of bed

snatching up garments
until your naked body
was clad in something
that suggested innocence.

He hides in the wardrobe to listen for

the scuff of his shoes
and mark the shy animal
in your voice as you offered
a fresh brew or asked questions
about the congregation.