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This review is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

Cover of Unearthly Toys
Toby GarfittRadiant Palaces
Ned Denny, Unearthly Toys (Carcanet) £9.99
Unearthly Toys (Poems and Masks) is a careful and loving construction of great richness and beauty, fulfilling the promise of the first line: ‘Consider the architecture of the fire’. While each of the forty-five poems, arranged in five groups of nine, and ranging from two lines to one hundred and fifty-four (the closing piece, headed by an epigraph taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 154), is self-contained, there are all kinds of discreet patterns and echoes that enhance the pleasure of reading. The rhyme scheme of the opening two poems, in which it is the corresponding lines of each sestet that rhyme (echoed later in the collection by octaves working in the same way), establishes a playful link to the troubadour poets, and through them to Pound and Eliot who both revered Arnaut Daniel, Dante’s ‘il miglior fabbro’. Other forms include the sestina, reworked sonnets and Spenserian stanzas, the haiku and prose poetry. The metrical range recalls John Fuller in its variety and lightness of touch. Even the alien Alexandrine feels at home in ‘HMP Wandsworth’. Repetition and modulation are frequent, from the wonderfully inviting anaphora of ‘Waking’ (‘At the edge of the woods…’ x 98) to the lappings of the word ‘water’ in ‘Grislie’ and the nimble couplets of ‘Gazelle’ (‘drinking the dusk / playing the dusk / outlawing the dusk / … / containing the dusk / being the dusk’).

The web of literary and cultural filiations is eclectic, like the tradition of house music from which the opening poem takes its title. Some pieces are deft ...

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