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Review: The Caprices, by James Byrne

In The Caprices (Arc, Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Road, Todmorden, OL14 6DA. 107pp.; pbck. £10.99) James Byrne undertakes a kind of posthumous collaboration with Goya, producing a short poem to accompany each of the 80 prints which make up Goya's great sequence (published as an album - Los Caprichos - in 1799), which, though they take contemporary Spain as their immediate target are fierce images of the follies and crimes endemic in most human societies, then and now. Nevertheless, the malign interest of the Inquisition 'encouraged' Goya to withdraw the album from sale soon after publication. Byrne's poetic glosses sometimes register the specifically Spanish references in some of the images, e.g. the presence of the Duchess of Alba in 'Two of a Kind'; elsewhere, as in a powerful 8 lines in response to perhaps the most famous image in the collection 'The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters', our modern world is clearly at the front of Byrne's mind (as in the wordplay on trump/Trump in line 2):

Now that the state legitimizes hate,
a wakeful trump of doom thunders
valley deep (where are the Blake's [sic]
and Miltons now?). Crisis of mirrors
where my neighbor reasons only
with himself: a hissing face, chained
to sleep in a star's coda. A fantasy
that whatever is pure is ENGLAND.

Throwing further light on the poem, Byrne's Introduction tells us that this poem "was written on the day of Britain's EU referendum". Each poem is printed below a small reproduction of the relevant image by Goya. Qt is easy to locate the images of Los Caprichos online and enlarge them for closet analysis). This is a valuable and rewarding volume, ekphrastic poetry at its most pointed. I have enjoyed Byrne's poems both for themselves, and for the light they throw on Goya.