This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.ALPHABETS AND INVERSIONS
Herbert Lomas's third collection is in some respects a very varied one, incorporating classical imitation, elegy and an extended sequence recalling the poet's birthplace with love poems and social satire. In all this variety, however, one becomes conscious of a persistent refusal to allow the language to rest easily in the chosen mode, or indeed upon an image, without a colloquialism in syntax or vocabulary reminding one continually of the poet's presence. Such worrying at the poetry, whether it be sardonic or laconic, can be beneficial; the 'Elegy for John Ridgewell' sequence gains a toughness and coherence through its movement from the overtly elegaic to the colloquially observed. More often, though, the poetry is at its best when the shadow of the later, chatty Auden obscures it least. (Auden, the subject of one poem and quoted in the epigraphs of two more, is very much the work's presiding genius.) When observation is allowed free play, without recourse to self-consciousness, Lomas obtains effective results-as in the admirably plain, anecdotal 'Razmali' and parts of 'Elegy for John Ridgewell', mentioned above.
The most ambitious piece, the sequence of twenty-four poems 'Todmorden', is concerned with the dangerous subject of childhood memories and circumvents sentimentality by projecting personal history into public history with the realisation that 'Not only my childhood but the whole century/That manufactured it's over'. There are some clear evocations of Pennine industry, of the Rochdale Canal and, most impressive of all, 'of the limestone landscape round Todmorden:
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