Arc Publications logo

50 years at the cutting edge of poetry publishing

“A meeting point for poets of all latitudes”
— VĂ­ctor Rodríguez Núñez

Review: A Casual Knack of Living: Collected Poems, by Herbert Lomas

Helena Nelson, Ambit 200, Spring 2010

This a beautiful book. I have the advantage of possessing the hardback edition, now out of print. However, the paperback also sports that gorgeous painting of the sea front at Aldeburgh, the casual fellow with his bike, the sun
on the water. It is a big book too: it runs to 400 pages of poems drawn from nine previously published collections, with a final section of nearly fifty uncollected pieces. So what you've got here is a lifetime of poetry. It is Herbert
Lomas's whole self.

Or that's what it felt like to me, dipping in, sifting the poems with the same pleasure you get from handling pebbles on Norfolk beaches. There's a disarming honesty in this poet who opens up his life stanza by stanza. Sometimes you empathise; sometimes you don't, but all of it is plain and true. And he never ever makes you feel stupid or gets caught up in his own cleverness. He is wry and funny and intelligent and insightful and heart-breaking - all of these things and more. First Kisses, for example:

[...] late at night, comforting
someone in tears. Perhaps it's because
she's so hot with suffering, or hasn't
used her kissing mouth for almost years.
But probably not: she just has a talent
and like so many talents,
it's been buried.

Or Distance, with the white space opening out between the lines like sorrow - (this is the complete poem):

A sad bald man is taking a solitary walk by the sea.
Daffodils push through the withered bracken.
A bird keeps hammering three notes on a tiny anvil.
Even at this late hour a child's out with his kite.
I've fallen in love with someone no one can live with.

Blurb writers on the back of books by 'new' 'innovative' young poets wax lyrical about 'risk-taking'. Look at the risks here and marvel at this elderly poet's method, his music, his mayhem. He is never boring. He is modestly magnificent. And you can live with him at your bedside for years.