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Sunday, 16 March 2014

THE LAND OF GOLD; AN APPRECIATION ON PAGE 40 IN THE SUN

Today is a miracle in London - after a long, very cold and wet Winter - it is as warm and sunny as a day in June might be. A perfect time to sit outdoors and read poetry.  And there is no better poetry book to read, today, than Sebastian Barker's The Land of Gold, recently published by Enitharmon. This is not a review - that is coming later, hopefully in print somewhere - but an appreciation.  I am only forty pages in.  But let me tell you something - these firsty forty pages are as beautifully lyrical and moving, as formally adept, as timeless, as the best of Housman, the best of Robert Graves. Barker, who died recently, was a man of vision, inspired by the great romantic and biblical works of the past - to call him Blakean is to state the obvious.  He also wrote in the shadow of his father, George Barker, the outsized Neo-romantic Faber poet of the 40s, whose reputation has oscillated widely and is now at an all-time low, close to Edith Sitwell's.  Such low reps can only rise, of course, when we learn to read them with new ears and hearts.

But they wrote a lot of guff.  No guff here.  All is burnt away, to what is only required - the poems are so achingly tender, and sad, and lovely, they seem ancient, or at least 19th century - but there is a modern steel in them, too, that has cut them to only what is needed.  Barker is the poet that people who do not think they like modern poetry would love to read, if they only knew about him, and had the time, or inclination, to reach for a new poetry book.  He is effortlessly major, in the non-tradition of the eccentric, traditional, non-aligned poets of the 20th century (one thinks again of Graves).  I have rarely so delighted in a poetry book - and so what if it is all about death, and life, and the trembling veil between those two hardships?  So what if it is love poetry, religious poetry, pure poetry?  Americans used to experiment might balk at such lush quaintness, and some Cambridge poets might quail - but where and when and if poetry is about feeling, well-made and placed on paper in signs meant to move another, later soul, then this book, even as I continue to read it, yields some of the finest poems a British poet has ever written. The Land of Gold deserves to be read 100 years from now, and then some.

Note: I now have read the first two-thirds, and the book remains great.
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