From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body by John Latham

Review published on January 27, 2018.

I am a great lover of poetry but have to admit that I don’t read very many contemporary poems and have only read the odd collection published in the last few years. So I was a little bit wary when I picked up this collection, not helped by the complicated title, and hoped I was going to understand at least some of the poems I encountered inside. I needn’t have worried. This is a collection of warm, honest, brave poems which speak of the human condition and I believe every reader would be able to relate to at least one poem.

This collection, the poet’s sixth, encompasses recollections of childhood, memories of the poet’s own son and the challenges of old age. Some of the poems about increasing age and illness made for uncomfortable reading, even as they speared the indignities ageing can bring, such as ‘The Valedictory’, when an eminent professor is losing the words he has always relied on. But even the painful poems often have a great tenderness, as in ‘Indian Summer’, when an old man is joined in a waltz and

‘they whirl deep into green,
touch everywhere before the drum’.

I particularly liked the poems about childhood, the remembered tastes and textures of a time when the world was still partly mystery. In ‘Mrs Campion’,

‘Her knife muses above the rhubarb pie,
sinks into its crust,
cloves and coriander swathe her in their scents…’

Or from ‘Turning the Wireless’ knob and remembering evenings spent with his father listening to the boxing on the radio,

‘We’d tiptoe downstairs, close the parlour door,
he’d resurrect the fire, unscrew a flask of tea.’

You are drawn into the scene, feel the warmth, the companionship of father and son.

There are so many moments I could choose from the collection. I didn’t like all the poems. I don’t think I understood all of them. But there is so much warmth and life in this book, I would recommend it to anyone, whether they usually read poetry or not.

Rebecca Kershaw 5/4

From Professor Murasaki’s Notebooks on the Effects of Lightning on the Human Body by John Latham
Comma Press 9781910974285 pbk Sep 2017

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