This is a writer who likes the grit and heft of words. It was French semiologist the late Roland Barthes who talked of the particular `grain` of certain singers` voices, and here, in this wonderful selection of poems from nearly thirty years of Kevin Crossley-Holland`s varied career, we find a poem called The Grain of Things, in which we read these lines:
[...] give me the gruff,
the honest stumble and crux -
the obstinate knot in the grain of things.
I think Ted Hughes, for one, would have cheered the sentiment, as would a writer such as Alan Garner, who similarly values the gruff, the knot in the grain.
C-H is a poet precise but never laboured, graspable yet never pat. He is also, I should say, a religious poet, in the broadest sense of that word. He not only notices, but renders sacramental that which he describes.
Raised in the Chilterns, schooled in Dorset and at Oxford, now living on the north Norfolk coast, how could he not write about landscape? He is one of our finest poets of the countryside, integrating the human with the natural world in the same way those two very fine Scottish poets George MacKay Brown and Norman McCaig once did.
There`s a shy humour lurking in these poems too, along with a compassion which avoids easy sentimentality. He is a poet who, in true Blakeian fashion, sees the world in a grain of sand. That word again...
He also gives credence to the incredible, the seemingly miraculous. Time and again in these pages, one is made to SEE - or at the very least imagine. Some poets overwrite, or merely blind the reader with torrents of words in an esoteric deluge. With C-H I get the sensation of a man who has something to say and says it in the clearest, most evocative way he can. He doesn`t obscure, he illuminates. The world is lit from within by these poems, and I for one can`t get enough of them.
A few more lines to, I hope, illustrate what I mean. Here is a poem called Nothing. It contains everything, as the best poems tend to:
My wife set off in search of the spring
and came back singing she had found nothing
just delicate tracks two desert mice
(or chipmunks maybe) the drag of their tails
and whisk of their whiskers then a cfuffle
where silvergreen blades bow and swing
yes only that and the ear of the wind.
A less confident poet might have relented and added more punctuation (and, by the way, that is how he spells kerfuffle; no doubt a dialect variant) but the abandon, the sheer delight of the moment, needs no superfluous distractions.
I could quote from these 150 pages forever, so I`ll simple say that these poems long to be read and cherished by all who love good poetry - and this is very good poetry.