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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

FIZZ AND FIZZLE Herbert Lomas, Trouble (Sinclair-Stevenson) £7.99
Gabriel Levin, Sleepers of Beulah (Sinclair-Stevenson) £6.99
R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times (Bloodaxe) £12.95 hbk, £5.95 pbk
Benjamin Zephaniah, City Psalms (Bloodaxe) £5.95
Lemn Sissay, Rebel Without Applause (Bloodaxe) £5.95

Herbert Lomas's new book, 'Trouble', is both amiable and observant. The note of danger in the title is, however, misleading. Lomas is at pains to remind us that suffering is no mere biblical abstraction, something which 'happens long ago and far away', giving it the headline treatment so that his 'Love is suffering today' becomes sharply reminiscent of Auden's 'Yes we are going to suffer now'. The success of such a manoeuvre depends on the little shock we get from suddenly finding a streak of primary colour against the washed-out background of modern life. Yet this collection doesn't wholly escape the half-tones. Lomas's frequent use of rhyme sometimes forces him to adopt anachronistic words like 'hue' or 'betimes', and even when it approximates to a sort of corny Byronic ingenuity - 'doubter/about her' - he is not always convincingly the master of its banality. At the same time one feels the presence of a cultural condom. It may well be that a man in Lomas's position finds it impossible to think of swans without also thinking of Yeats, but those webbed feet muddy his priorities. Should Yeats's presence really be on a par with that of the swans? Lomas's 'The Wild Swans at Aldeburgh' seems to have no life of its own, not even a borrowed one. Similarly, Hopkins's shade is evoked as an intermediary for the poet's tears over the Agony in the Garden in 'The Long Retreat' (a truly Catholic poem?), and the kitchen of his 'rainy ...


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