Daily Archives: July 27, 2014

The Sun Bathers by Roy Marshall (Shoestring, £9.00)

the sun bathers

Roy Marshall’s debut collection takes its title from the linocut by Leonard Beaumont that is reproduced on the cover. Marshall imagines the 1930s bathing beauties as sisters – “let’s call them Dora / and Emily. Both warm-drowsy, both eighteen, / born on the eve of a war they’re told / their fathers fought” – and captures them in a last summer of innocence before global conflict again explodes: “none of us can say / who’ll be a WAAF or WREN, working the land / or in a factory”. Marshall concludes the poem with a grimmer prediction for the carefree lads hovering near them on the beach, their minds on romance and not the immanence of war.

‘August 31st, 1961’ similarly places a perfectly captured moment in time (the birth of his sister) against the bigger picture of the history books. “In the hospital car-park in Surrey / our Dad is watching the moon rise, / already a target for Kennedy”. Here, Marshall’s style is sparse, the maximum communicated with an economy of language. A sense of precision, of words carefully and purposefully chosen, characterises The Sun Bathers. Which is not to suggest that Marshall is a minimalist: these are poems that have depth and weight; their author’s skill in structure and lineation ensures they have room to breathe on the page.

Subjects are diverse, and Marshall certainly knows his history (pace the sequence about da Vinci that forms the collection’s centrepiece), but he’s arguably at his best when memory and autobiography infuse his work. ‘The Bow Saw’ became an immediate favourite on first reading and I’ve gone back to it several times: a simple recollection of father and son collecting fallen branches from the local woods, its half dozen quatrains are a masterclass in tactile evocation, taut use of poetics and how to achieve poignancy without succumbing to nostalgia. “I learnt the languages of wood: / dense oak coughing fine dust, jamming / the blade in the cut, asking more from / an aching arm, a racing heart and lungs”.

 The Sun Bathers is accessible without sacrificing erudition, sensitive yet muscular when it needs to be. Marshall has a fine talent for elegance and clarity. His poetry exerts a very quiet, understated spell: it keeps drawing you back.

 Neil Fulwood




It Goes With the Territory: memoirs of a poet by Elaine Feinstein (Alma, £20)

it goes with the territoryElaine Feinstein is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, three collections of poetry in translation, fifteen novels, two short story collections and seven biographies but has chosen “memoirs of a poet” as the sub-title of this book rather than a “writer”, giving away immediately her main interest and leading us to the world in which she made an unlikely entry so many decades ago. Against her was that she was Jewish, provincial, female, unconnected and married with three children before she could really call herself a poet. In her favour, however, was that as a teenager “while other girls dreamt of princes and Hollywood stars, I dreamt of dead poets.”

Elaine went to Cambridge where she wrote for Granta and set up Prospect, publishing Harold Pinter, Denise Levertov and Donald Davie, amongst others, and made friends with Allen Ginsberg. Her influences as a poet were from the west, the Black Mountain poets and Charles Reznikoff and, later, from the east, when she made another reputation as a translator ,particularly of Marina Tsvetieva. Along the way Elaine brought up her children, met internationally famous poets such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who kept her up all night drinking, and Joseph Brodsky, who she fell out with over translation.

Her novel Russian Jerusalem manages to bring together all her favourite Russian interests, from Isaac Babel on, and her memoir reveals not a few scrapes as she tries to work with refuseniks in broken down flats in Moscow suburbs. Some of her work reveals profound melancholy, and one reason, outlined in her memoir, was often her difficult but fifty-years long marriage to Arnold Feinstein, a scientist, who was unfaithful and, at times, threatened by her successes. Yet she loved Arnold despite everything, which led to her most recent book of poems Talking to the Dead, a group of elegies for him. The book more or less ends with Arnold’s death in 2012.

It Goes With the Territory will be of particular value to those concerned with the history of twentieth century poetry, but of a wider value to those concerned about how women moved into the world of men in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ross Bradshaw