Forward Prize for Poetry Shortlist: Night

Forward Prize for Poetry Shortlist: Night
David Harsent
Reviewed by Rachel Beckwith
Thu, 20/01/2011

David Harsent’s latest collection, shortlisted for this year's Forward Prize for Poetry, is a striking poetic journey – through real and imagined shadows – that can’t fail to leave a profound impression on the reader.

The opening poem Rota Fortunae throws us into Harsent’s world of luck and loneliness. It is a fast-paced poem that rattles in ever-confusing directions, mirroring the “turn-and-turn-about” of a casino wheel.

One of the most interesting sequences is Abstracts – a series of poems written in response to the works of [abstract painter] Mark Rothko. The original paintings – vast and simplistic in colour – are an unlikely source of poetic narrative. But Harsent succeeds in finding a diverse range of plot, description and even character among Rothko’s formless patterns.   

The title poem serves as a boiling pot for every theme, with prominent references to ghosts, dreams, death and blood. Above all, the poet’s relationship with women (and himself) gathers momentum until he is confronted with “the brittle, thin/ example of himself […]/ somewhat older and closer to the dark”.

Throughout the book, Harsent addresses age and mortality with an unflinching, personal tone.

Night is a bold collection in every sense – with an authority reminiscent of Crow by Ted Hughes. Harsent won the Forward Prize best collection in 2005 with Legion, and surely it is only this year's highly competitive shortlist (also comprising John Burnside, Geoffrey Hill, Michael Longley, D Nurkse and Sean O’Brien) that could stop him winning it a second time.

Poetry, drama

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