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This review is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

Cover of Black Sun
Andrew FraynNox est perpetua

Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Black Sun (Faber & Faber) £9.90
In his second collection, Black Sun, Toby Martinez de las Rivas develops and strengthens his poetic voice. He moves from the introspection of early verse to mature reflection on the state of the world; the self-apostrophising Tobe is less prominent. The volume is highly formal, strikingly exploring the possibilities of the sonnet: the two poems not obviously in that form, opening the first and final sections, combine their octave and sestet to achieve a structural unity. The themes he addresses remain consistent from earlier work, the materiality of the text and body allied with the tension between faith and despair; recent world events lurk just out of sight. The ‘black sun’ motif appears in his earlier collection, Terror (2014). The first stanza of its first poem, ‘Twenty­One Prayers for Weak or Fabulous Things’ ends: ‘I speak this prayer into the black sun’. A dislike for conventional publishing ornaments led to the solid black circle that separates its sections, and that disc returns in Black Sun at five times the size, now a focal point. These verses return to eschatology, as in ‘The Same Night Waits for Everyone’, and in the back matter the same black circle obscures the repeated word ‘Judgement’. Martinez de las Rivas refuses closure, however, with a white sun on the black facing page.

A key aspect of the developing force of Martinez de las Rivas’s voice is his determination to stand apart. ‘England’ opens the middle section, suggesting its centrality to his identity. However, there is no nostalgia: ‘the ...

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