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This review is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

THE FUTURE: TENSE SIMON SMITH, Mercury (Salt Publishing, 2006)
MARK HADDON, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea (Picador) £12.99

These two books could not be more unalike. Simon Smith's Mercury pushes the limits of language and line to just short of the fragmentation of words and meanings. Enigmatic disconnections, his verse takes on one of the subordinate meanings of mercury: 'volatility of temperament, inconstancy'. Mark Haddon's The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, in contrast, provides adaptations of Horace's Odes and memorialises modern times using traditional forms leavened with a dose of witty pathos that is familiar but still frequently moving.

Mercury is a long book of short poems, 146 in all. Some poems are only a title and a line - most are probably five to eight lines - and they are all triple spaced so that the poems are spacious on the page and each line is distanced from another. Mercury 's poems are a bit like what we might have if William Carlos Williams had written 'The Red Wheelbarrow' and left out the clause 'so much depends/upon'. With Smith there is no sense of causation or even the perceptual connection that Williams depended his images from. There is neither narrative nor even subjects, except what those suggested by the titles, and they are usually feints. The full-stop is used erratically. There are no rhymes or line variations to vary the declamatory monotone. Certain words repeat themselves across the body of the book: Michelle, Jack ...


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