Adam Thorpe ranges from ancient Rome to his mother’s last days in a collection rich in language and dark in toneAdam Thorpe is a longsighted poet, at home with the ancient and the modern, and with an extraordinary field of vision. In this first-class collection – which repays rereading – he turns a searchlight back to the ice age (in Bolzano, Italy) and to ancient Rome (where he walks in the shoes of Suetonius) and looks back, too, at the English language. In Lingua Franca, he relishes Anglo-Saxon roots – language as a vehicle for history: “The frost and fog of Danelaw, its oafs and their knives / staggered from; the Saxon hog snuffling in its barn, / dung-daggled, furrowing through acorns / in the winter wood. And ice, yonder.” He reminds us that contemporary speech is made up of souvenirs: “Every time we open our mouths / it rushes out in a skein of colour: / entwined ghosts.” He describes himself as a ‘blithe scrivener” but must intend this ironically, for his poems are undeceived and sometimes bleak, even though pepped up by his wry wit. If the English language is blighted as “slaughterers pound up the sand”, the English countryside is being similarly blasted, its meadows “silenced of their quivering lyra, / the tiny throats bunged with whiffs / of cancer and formaldehyde.” Nature is victim to a “chemical sacerdotage”. (sacerdotage is, I guess, his coinage – the “dotage” appropriate in context).
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