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Review: Saving Spaces, by Ian Pople

Ian Pople's third collection (impressively produced by Arc, who were recently abandoned by the Arts Council) offers a poetry that George Herbert would have appreciated and even employs some of his gestures - as in the final conceit of Winter, reproduced here in full:

Winter is a sacrament:
the bumble bee has hidden among the splinters,
the crow, up there in the long forest, shakes off the rain,
the pig stands in its fleece of steam,
the pipistrelle nudges deeper into the tree cleft;

and He has looked in on it, and confidently stated,
That is my deposit,
the heart with its old-fashioned indigo.

Pople's is an uncomfortable poetic: edgy, troubled, rich only in mystery, in the ambiguity of life and language (that heart of a felled tree, which also evokes the cross), the manner otherwise cool and precise. Favourite words are folded and - perhaps a little too often - a simple, thrusting that, both characteristic of a certain nineteenth-century Jesuit. Despite this, Pople's verses are neither overwhelmingly religious, nor relentlessly literary (there is one delightful homage to Graham Greene, another to Blake). His gift is rather for the salty lyric: uncompromising, unshowy, alert to the resonance of the ordinary in A Thousand Twangling Instruments, for example, or in a miniature triumph such as For this relief, much thanks, whose seven lines capture the exultant mood of a patient emerging from a hospital appointment:

The magpies and the seagulls fly up here,
and other, darker, fleeting birds that glide
past roofs with railings, satellite dishes,
clock towers above hotel conversions,
the clouded background; down there,
grass, a mulch of fallen leaf, people
waiting. Behind me, my appointment.

Not everything in Saving Spaces works so well. The Lace Wing, for example, depends on a somewhat antique - albeit apt - typewriter metaphor. But this is more than made up for by the success of Confessions, a sequence which plays stanza shape against syntax in a disconcerting threnody of urban spiritual longing.