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Review: A Cure for Woodness, by Michael Haslam

Michael Haslam's poems also engage with nature, but while [...] concision is often his strength, Haslam's best work comes out of verbosity. Inspired by his surroundings in the Calder Valley, A Cure for Woodness is often delivered with great narrative drive, influenced by Haslam's reading of Shakespeare, Spenser and Arthurian legends. At times this language can overpower the reader - Prince Phoebus Columbus opens From the Globe of first albescence unto rubicundity / the glabrous column of the day arose which can be disconcerting for any reader who is sent to the dictionary before the story has started.

Once in the flow of his material, however, Haslam's poems are fascinating journeys. Nature appears as an independent, conscious creature-Winter came after us, running the moor edge (Running to Meter) - which Haslam investigates in relation to his own emotions. Here is the push-and-pull of man and the wild, his complex relationship with the countryside and the elements, and yet for all its uncomfortable qualities, the poet feels happiest when closest to it.

The heightened sensations are told with complex rhymes and varied rhythms; iambic pentameter and ballad meter are disguised by the stanzas' layout, with Haslam chopping and changing as he goes, as with Wastes of the Picturesque:

An art of ruins wastes and wrecks has left a late-
romantic artist vexed, perplexed before a space
of nothing but a tract of wretched text...

Carried along by rhythm, the reader encounters regular word-games, reversals and puns. In his shorter poems, their sheer abundance can tire: Pull faces / thinking phrases for the lyric graces (Balabouring in Reverie) overwhelms and requires more context than is given. A longer verse, however, allows the language more space and time, providing an initial image and then expanding:

let soul and soth both droop with sloth
into the soup or broth, but stir and drink
the stupor with a lengthy ladle.
Phoebus fears there's no way through
from grave to cradle.