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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 18 March 2014
I was introduced to this collection by a friend who brought it to a book group - I don't love all the poems but there are some moments of real beauty in here - the title poem Conjure is really amazing - and it is worth buying the book for this poem alone - it is a beautiful poem which could equally be about the narrator's relationship with his son or his father.
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on 15 January 2001
Michael Donaghy is arguably the greatest poet now writing in Britain, though he's far from our most prolific. This is only his third collection in twelve years and, indeed, it reads like the product of intense and passionate labour. It's already won him the Forward Prize and has been shortlisted for the Whitbread and T.S. Eliot Prizes - setting a new record in the world of poetry prizes - and luminaries such as Melvyn Bragg and Andrew Motion have listed it as their "book of the year". It would be breathtaking for it's sheer painstaking artistry and verbal texture alone (Donaghy seems to cover more territory in a line than some poets can with an entire poem) but masterpieces such as "Black Ice and Rain", "Annie" and "Not Knowing The Words" - elegies, dramatic monologues and love songs - drive relentlessly and unforgettably to the core of emotional truths. Even the best collections contain the odd tedious poem but this is one of those rare books without a single boring page! Conjure is simply the most moving and imaginative collection of poems I've read for years and should be required reading for anyone seeking passion and intelligence in contemporary poetry.
3 people found this helpful
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on 2 January 2002
Borges says somewhere that 'unhappily, all literature is made of tricks, and those tricks get - in the long run - found out'. Michael Donaghy seems to know this, indeed, makes such a notion explicit in his book's title, 'Conjure'. But, while there are poems here that turn themselves inside out, that show their workings like radios with their backs off, there's a much more unobtrusive and subtle vein at work here too. It's good - in a climate where it rains the 'real life', the docu-dramatic - to find a poet this smart, bringing this kind of verve to bear on his material. He can do narrative - 'Black Ice and Rain' is one of his best (and, if you haven't seen it already, you're only a few clicks away from his first two collections, handily collected by Picador as 'Dances Learned Last Night') - but never the kind of long-winded sob story where the only person the poet seems to be tricking is himself. The author once likened our culture to a vast, posh shop, with the security cameras switched off. This is a brilliant book. Long may he ram raid.
5 people found this helpful
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on 13 June 2002
Donaghy's latest collection is a stunning one. Donaghy is an excellent poet. "Black Ice and Rain", one of the better poems, is a tragic narrative/dramatic monologue about loss. The poem works on many levels. Immediately following is "Our Life Stories", which is another of the best of the poems. The other poems in the collection are also very good. I draw your attention to these two only because they stand up as not only the best in the book, but some of the best poetry being written. The only complaint I have is that the quality of the binding Picador did is very poor. I only hope that as they reprint this volume they'll improve the quality of their bookmaking.
3 people found this helpful
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on 13 March 2001
Conjure is an exquisite collection by a poet who more than any other writing today sings to us. His poems contain an enchanting music which sometimes marries simplicity and beauty together in a way reminiscent of Mozart. But it is not just the song with Donaghy, it is what he makes music about. The lovely little poem Tears, which is short enough to quote in full, gives us a flavour of the world of Conjure:
are shed, and every day
workers recover
the bloated cadavers
of lovers or lover
who drown in cars this way. /
And they crowbar the door
and ordinary stories pour,
furl, crash, and spill downhill -
as water will - not orient,
nor sparkling, but still
There is a lot of pain in this book, a lot of loss. There is his father, there is the child - looking in wonder and without sadness, and there are signs of a Catholicism lived and left behind. There are terrible facts from history, in 'Where is it written that I must die here' there is a scene so horrible that it gave me a nightmare and haunts the edge of my imaginings, but that is the poet's job - lest we forget and such facts drown in such seas as the Guinness Book of Records. Against the pain and loss there is humour and tenderness and metaphysical fancy. In both the music that he makes and the stories he tells there are beats and images that make us laugh. There is also laughter and delight as he magics words into giving us pictures of mysterious realms.
The love in his poetry is everywhere: it is in the gentle melancholy he displays as what is lost is paid homage, it is there in the sympathy he gives for (nearly) all who appear in his poems, and it is there for his son who possesses this book in a deeper way than a normal dedication would give - the last poem in the book Haunts concerns the poet and his son haunting each other across time. In Proust, time is transcended when some sensation now so mirrors some sensation from our past that we are lifted above time and taken back to our being as it was then; in Haunts three times are brought together, not into a moment above time, but by a magic in which across the years father and son say the words 'Don't be afraid' to each other. In a paradoxical triangle of causality this simple and beautiful sentiment ties together the three times - Conjure shows us many terrifying and distressing things, but this is its true message: Don't be afraid.
Choosing his books of the year for the Observer, Melvyn Bragg said "Conjure contains poems which are as deeply structured, as lucid, moving and witty as Auden at his best". I agree, but there is also something reminiscent of Yeats in Donaghy, both in the music of the words and the astonishing vividness of the pictures he creates. More than anything, tho', he is his own man building a vast and wonderful world for us to delight in and learn from. This is an essential work of poetry of our time and it is a profound pleasure.
9 people found this helpful
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on 11 October 2000
Michael Donaghy's new collection is characterised by his familiar combination of great intellectual acuity and emotional intelligence. Donaghy has always been able to find a compelling balance between the personal and the universal, the epic and the local, the comic and the tragic. This collection demonstrates that ability in abundance.
The most moving sequence of poems deals with the loss of his father; imaginary encounters and conversations between father and 'old son' (with haunting echoes of Hamlet creeping onto the stage). The aptly-titled "Haunts" and "The Excuse", both dealing very powerfully with this theme, each frame the collection at its end and its beginning respectively.
Amongst the many highlights of the collection, and in a more anecdotal-historical vein, are "The Drop"; "Timing"; "The Palm"; and "Needlework", to name but a fairly random selection from a very strong collection. One of the most rewarding books of poetry I have read in recent years.
One person found this helpful
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on 13 May 2001
A stirring tongue-in-cheek dialogue of the soul where you discover the tongue is not your own. It left me searching my heart like a many pocketed jacket to pay the tab at Tavern on the Green when my means fell beneath my lifestyle.
2 people found this helpful
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on 24 March 2001
Picador's blurb tells us that Michael Donaghy's 'Conjure' is a Poetry Book Society Choice, a Forward Prize winner, along with the curious information that Mr. Donaghy is a 'poet's poet'. Well, I have to confess that I'm not sure what any of this really means, though I'm sure it's meant to impress me. Is a 'poet's poet' therefore not a 'critic's poet', or an 'academic's poet', or even a 'reader's poet'? Christ knows.
But what about the poems? Well they have a certainly have a pedigree - falling somewhere between Robert Frost and Paul Muldoon most of the time, it seems. I guess I'm supposed to be lamenting that most of 'modern poetry' is lacking in both learning and prosodic craft, and swooning before Mr. Donaghy's wit and invention. But mostly I'm not. Many of these poems read more like slick, stylish film-noir synopses. Yes, there is wit, 'cool' and invention aplenty, but so somehow the material often fails to seem that deeply experienced or felt, to this reader, anyway. This is art coming out of art, and more art. Maybe this is the point. Maybe Mr. Donaghy is trying to make me uncomfortable. Maybe this is all a very clever way of dislocating me from naïve prejudices about the difference between truth and fiction; of the genuine and the ersatz. 'Conjure' certainly mixes both.
Having said this 'Black Ice and Rain' is a tour-de-force of dramatic, narrative construction, mixing 'melodrama' and 'confession' quite brilliantly, whilst still managing to stir up all the above. Is the 'voice' one we can trust? Is it telling us uncomfortable truths about our world and the way we live, or is its 'pathos' and 'sophistication' a mere bid to get at our attention; a playing to the gallery of a far more slippery and subtle kind. You can never be quite sure with Donaghy.
Elsewhere there are also some lovely lyrics, beautifully crafted.
are shed, and every day Workers recover The bloated cadavers Of lovers or lover Who drown in cars this way.
And they crowbar the door And ordinary stories pour, Furl, crash, and spill downhill - As water will - not orient, Not sparkling, but still.'
Yes, thank-you, Marvell, for that. Compassion and pathos as well as wit and invention. More please.
These poems, and a handful about 'the poets' (how naïve of me to assume) father, justify the price of this volume. Uneven, but sporadically satisfying.
3 people found this helpful
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on 29 June 2001
Michael Donaghy writes so beautifully that I have no intention of trying to wax lyrical in his praise - his poems speak for themselves, and far more eloquently than I could hope to.
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