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The Curiosities by Christopher Reid – a collection with a capital ‘C’

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From cherries and cufflinks to couches and cravings, Reid’s poetry is not constrained by its USP

Spare a thought for the poor souls condemned to write poetry blurbs. Critics can argue for years – decades, centuries – over a single poem’s meaning, and fail to reach a conclusion. The task of summarising a whole book of verse in the space of just a few weeks gives a new dimension (albeit a minor, wafty one) to the term “Sisyphean”. Inevitably, therefore, publishers fall back on truisms. Hands up who’s picked up a poetry collection to find that – guess what? – the author has chosen to tackle themes of “life, death, love and loss”? So imagine, then, the relief with which the editors at Faber must have greeted Christopher Reid’s latest offering. This is one of those rare collections that lends itself to synopsis; its guiding principle can be summed up in just three words: the letter C.

Each of the 73 poems in The Curiosities is a meditation on a C-word (though never explicitly the C-word; more of what’s implicit later), from cufflinks to cravings to conversations to cabs. As USPs go, this one is so obtrusive that it risks reducing the whole enterprise to the level of gimmick, but, happily, Reid is too canny to outsmart himself like that. Thematic they may be, but these poems contain all the life, death, love and loss you could ask for, from the child who “woke to a cry not his”, via the “toxic / and irresistible rush” of an illicit affair, to the man who, in the wake of his wife’s death, “put a notice in the local paper” advertising for “a copy”. By organising them around a single letter, Reid has simply gathered his reflections and endowed them with a particular focus, providing the collection with a clarity and cohesion that compel you to read on.

Related: A life in writing: Christopher Reid

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