Praise and Poems
Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Autumn 2008
No stranger to the intricacies of pain or the mystery of pleasure, in which both men and women are ‘blindfolded’ and bound – whether in ballads or prose poems – Naomi Foyle writes with elegance and wit, while never pulling any punches.
Naomi Foyle’s new collection emphasises vividly the performative voice and dramatises bodily and emotional experiences rarely so directly invoked in poetry. Truly original new work in verse and prose, as well as some adventurous, idiomatic translations, unsettle complacency and challenge expectations. Ostentatious, flirtatious, sometimes witty, technically ambitious and expansively sensuous, these poems push boundaries of form, genre and manner. At the same time they are highly approachable. Discerning readers will be delighted to discover a poet whose work is innovative but far from obscure, entertaining but never escapist.
Naomi Foyle’s The Night Pavilion, her superb and startling first collection, glories in “needles, nettles, splinters” but it is the hard forms of those unlovely things, as much as their power to sting, which she celebrates. For all their mastery of form, these are poems that prowl, poems with whiskers, alert to “the tender tips of words.” She has an eye, and a nose, for unseemly contrasts—not only “cock” and “cunt” but the sexiest “crop circles” on record—and yet, out of these rude collisions a difficult beauty takes shape. She writes of “a blistered torrent of dung,” and the phrase stinks and shines at once. A flowering buddleia is “lilac, powder blue, magenta” but exudes “an almost rodent charm.” Foyle is not just a brilliant fashioner of original images. She commands her chosen forms with mischievous, and sometimes savage, flair; from her riddles to her marvellous ballads “The Dance” and “Natasha”—as well as her “midnight versions” of Akhmatova (the only versions I know which give that poet an authentic voice in English)—Foyle moves with complete authority. She has a wonderfully cadenced ear, allowing her to ring all the changes of rhyme, from suavely perfect to subtly dissonant (with a few lisping rhymes thrown in: “teeth/thief!”), and of metre, from the stately to the syncopated. Even so, just when you begin to think that Foyle is a lineal descendant of the Three Weird Sisters, all packed into one “pink hovel” of a mouth, you detect the sadness beneath the fierce aplomb. These brilliant poems present themselves as “darkroom debutantes” but in the end, they stand revealed as what Foyle proudly, and piercingly terms, “a beautiful and measured/way to sound alone.”