This consummately fascinating study into the relationship between dance and poetry – the “step” of dance, and the “foot” of verse – presents a complex, intricate interlacing of disciplines. Dappled with personal anecdotes alongside probing evolutionary questions, historical depth and contemporary insights, it is at once thought-provoking and engaging. The author’s experience as both a dancer and poet inform his unique investigation. He ascribes his long-held passion for both to a deep-rooted childhood awareness of rhythm: “Rhythm is common to both pursuits. Increasingly I have come to feel that dance is a language and that language is a dance.” I found the “Which Came First?” chapter especially compelling. The author’s exploration of humankind’s transition to bipedalism and language takes in fascinating linguistic and archaeological theories, and links the shift to bipedalism to the development of reflective thought, and to walking as an expressive activity. Suffused in spirited intellectualism and a global perspective, this is a must-read for anyone interested in poetry, dance and exploring the history of humanity through the lens of the arts.
The centrepiece of 'Silent Highway' is the title-poem which celebrates the role of the river Thames in the life of London. It is written as a sequence that looks at history and the present: from Pocahontas's voyage to the arrival of the 'Windrush' bringing immigrants from Jamaica, the mysterious death of Roberto Calvi and the 'Marchioness' disaster, via the Fire of London and many incidents in which the river has been spectator or participant. Howell's mix of verse styles and skill with cameos ensures that interest never flags. In other poems he demonstrates his pleasure in avoiding the predictable and in writing on a wide variety of subjects. Among the many poems of place, in which he excels, are some disturbing descriptions of modern Britain; in the final section, poems inspired by a winter spent in Brazil, he has surprises in store, such as the witty (and true) poem 'In Praise of Shopping'.
In the title poem, set in Rome, a chance meeting with the dying Rudolf Nureyev strikes the poet, himself a dancer, as hallucinatory. Along with the poems prompted by his mother's death, it is one of several unsettling poems in this collection. Yet a celebratory strain runs through the book, providing a counter-balance: there are poems which celebrate active life, vigorous sexuality, and the subtle steps of the tango. The result is a characteristically robust and varied collection which continues the vein of subtle dandyism for which Howell is renowned.
Anthony Howell's choice from his five previous books displays a poet of great variety and accomplishment. From playful short poems to extended narratives, whether in free verse or traditional forms, his skill enlivens his subjects and offers surprise and delight. His poetry has appealed to readers as diverse as John Ashbery ('curiously strong') and Peter Porter ('Howell has style to spare and is happily unclassifiable').
An eye for detail informs these poems by Anthony Howell. The book charts his wanderings from Hampshire to Australia, and finally to Sicily. His renewed interest in the description of emotional as well as geographical landscape is one of the pleasures of this large collection. Here he allows subject matter to temper the abstraction for which he is noted, while still demanding that each poem should be an exhilarating manifestation of language. Robert Nye wrote that his last collection Notions of a Mirror (1983) 'deserves the attention of anyone who cares for poetry at all'; Peter Porter found it 'a delightful book - fresh, clever, humane and dandified once more...The best of the poems are as arresting as the work of French surrealists like Reverdy and Desnos. But there is British sturdiness as well'.
This book brings together Anthony Howell's previously uncollected poems written between 1964 and 1982. His early collections of poems Inside the Castle (1969) and Imruil (1970) established him as one of our most talented new voices, a view which the wit and accomplishment of these poems will confirm. Notions of a Mirror marks the re-emergence of a remarkable poet.