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Poetry book of the month: Loss by David Harsent – review

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A firm virtuosity and sense of estrangement drives this challenging new collection

This is a long watch of a poem, a tormented vigil. You want to ask, “Who’s there?” – a question you might, like the guard in Hamlet’s opening scene, call out in the dark. If loss is the subject, who is the loser? And what – or who – has been lost? These questions are not easily answered.

This is the latest volume in an extraordinarily rich period for David Harsent. In 2011, in Night, he made darkness visible. Fire Songs (2014) and Salt (2017) flared into apocalyptic view soon after. The subtitle of Loss is “white nights”, but do not expect any atoning dawns. The form of the new volume is painstaking: stretches of italics describe a figure looking through a window, writing on misty glass. He is a “man in waiting”. Sonnets alternate with trochaics and lead back to the frightening consciousness from which this fragmented narrative poem comes.

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