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Faber New Poets 13 to 16 review – four debuts with promise and punch

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Kippers, Christmas, birthdays and bathos in collections by Elaine Beckett, Crispin Best, Sam Buchan-Watts and Rachel Curzon

A camel, it is said, is a horse designed by a committee. The latest batch of Faber New Poets was selected by a committee of six from a longlist of 60 manuscripts. Given this procedure, are camel warnings in order? Or are camels what the age demands? Faber’s introductory anthologies and pamphlets have previously given us an early sight of poets such as Elaine Feinstein, Ian Hamilton, Douglas Dunn, David Harsent and Paul Muldoon– hard acts to follow.

Elaine Beckett (bravely appearing as No 13) is laconic, undeceived and clearly not a camel. She works in a vein that many readers will recognise, at times recalling Hugo Williams in her patient orchestration of apparently “ordinary” language which she makes memorable by sentence construction and a good ear. “Melting” is a funny poem about an encounter with a fishmonger. “I said I’d like to buy his kipper”: in comparison with what’s going on here, the word “innuendo” suggests an ineffable delicacy. It seems that Sid James has finally made it into poetry. Beckett’s robust approach also works under grimmer conditions in “The Woman Who Cries”. The arrival of a brilliantly evoked Picasso postcard – “there she was: / fractured, pitiful, a red-and-blue lifeboat lodged / in her hair, driven mad by her own salt waters” – reveals both the male sender’s grasp of the situation and his complete want of tact. Not all the poems here are so successful. “Dreaming of the Professor Who Gave Me the Sack” is almost there, but ends with a repetition that should have been ironed out. Yet Beckett’s unselfconscious alertness is appealing.

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