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on 8 October 2012
I've always rated Blake Morrison as a dramatist through his works with Northern Broadsides, but had no clue he was also a poet of such range. Published to mark a major anniversary of the Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, Morrison here combines some of his earlier works on the witches, with new poems bearing actual or general relevance to the theme, plus his dialect poem on the Yorkshire Ripper - which makes good sense in the overall context.
What marks these poems as exceptional is Morrison's stark simplicity of language, whilst also throwing down the kind of metaphors that leave you sighing with envy. A split horse-chestnut is like 'a cow opening its sad eye'. A long-awaited first kiss is 'a meeting of stalagmite and stalactite. The slow drip of courtship:'
Not for Morrison the often rank obscurism of Armitage, or the learned contempt for clarity of certain poets laureate. You could take the witchy parts of 'A Discoverie' into any junior school and have the kids enthralled by the spooky playfulness of language. And the more 'adult' pieces leave just enough open for interpretation to cast a feeling of unease or regret.
The modern world impinges on this collection too, with 'spells' cast by alcohol or sordid gossip, and the poet's own childhood sense of destiny emerges amid a hagridden landscape. The book closes with the controversial 'Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper'; a narrative of Sutcliffe's 'mission' as might be told by one gruff yeoman to another over a Dales farm gate. The yarn is sprinkled with the writer's love for womankind in all its forms, thus offsetting any clinical brutality in the telling. It rivals Tony Harrison's 'V' for chilling realism, and has similarly divided the scoffers and the understanders. None of which should unduly bother Morrison - after this remarkable collection he stands among poetry's modern greats. And in an age when books as tactile gems are increasingly kindled on the pyre of progress, this early hardback edition from Litfest and Smith/Doorstop is a thing of some beauty.