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Review: A Cure for Woodness, by Michael Haslam

Michael Haslam is a very different poet, much more rural on the one hand and much more linguistically challenging on the other. I compared his last book to folk music, and certainly in subject matter, there are echoes of folk themes, ballads and the like in his work. But it's as if a folk singer were being backed by a free jazz saxophonist: the music of his poems is often dissonant and driving forward, while he talks about sexual encounters on the moorland (Running to Meter) or goes wandering round an old hall long since fallen into disuse (Old Hall down in the Hollow; Spring up Sunny Bank).

The best way of reading Haslam is to read him aloud, to roll your tongue round his sprung rhythms, his internal rhymes and alliterations, his wild music:

Much must the English love the mulch and slush
that issues from the mouth of miry rough,
the stench of silage from the mix of herbage
verbiage and roughage, sour queach
given off the rushy moss, mephitis of
a ferrous sump with quaking crust
and all that trickles into tracklessness down valley bottom.

from The Love of English: Haslam's Folly

This is not an urban wit, but one with its roots in the poet of Plowman's, of the uncanny woods, hills and valleys of Northern England. This is a radical landscape poetry that challenges the comfortable picture of English rolling hills and cricket matches, a music of the deep uncanny. I don't always understand it and I don't always feel comfortable in these poems, but Haslam is, along with Maggie O'Sullivan and Geraldine Monk, among the best visionary modernists in England.