Hayden Murphy

CENTRAL to Glasgow-born David Kinloch’s sixth collection, In Search of Dustie-Fute (Carcanet, £9.99) is a bestiary from both Bedlam and the Bible. Dustie-fute is Ringmaster and Lightning Conductor: “Nemo/trees and beasts ex-beau/hot bod hard-got/but a liar that light forgot”.

The liar is also a fabulist. This exhilarating collection, his first since Finger of a Frenchman (2011), opens in 1910. Paris is in flood. The spirit of Apollinaire is evoked: “tautening an ark against the ever-rising Seine”. Inhabitants include not only a giraffe but humans transported by water. This is a place where “love comes and goes/and goes; the days remain.”

Nights of dreams bring us to the chronicles of that eternal step-dad Joseph. He overhears a phone call from an angel: “Can I speak to Mary? I heard the voice/ in my head, soft as the chisel edge/that scalped my thumb in carpentry at school”. The mind stops as “My wife and the Angel/(become) glowing, life-long bulbs electrified/ by prayer”. Naturally Rilke intrudes and brings in a helpful phrase or two as the narrative takes on an evangelical fervour. Orpheus orchestrates vignettes. Inevitably there are other visitations to the Bible.

Memorably Sarah: “pretty enough to tempt rulers to slit/ my old husband’s pendulous wattle.” Then unexpected domesticity: “At tea-time each night we laugh at our names:/ ‘Mother and Father of multitudes’/ I’m ninety, and he’s ninety-nine”.

There are more sombre moments of recollection on the devastation of Aids. A scholarly elegance brings the reader emotionally through with the author. Eclectic blasphemy is refined by rational heathenism. Kinloch is the great Pagan of Scottish poetry. Yet sensitive and sensible enough to say with Mary Magdalene “‘Start again’ was his favourite saying./He didn’t bleed./The whiteness is tremendous”.

In Alyson Hallett’s Toots (Mariscat, £6), the eponymous character comes from Roysten, “five feet two/voice like a pterodactyl”. She was one of many Glaswegian children brought to Iona by the great Betty White. Iona “an island so strange they must have thought they were dreaming”. Hallett, Literary Fund Advisory Fellow from Bath, a volunteer worker on the island, met Toots in the summer of an unspecified year and “hated her at first sight/she hated me too/which meant it was/only a matter of time”.

Yes, dear reader, far from the pages of Austen, they became lovers. Gloriously so: “It was bliss it was all the deer/and vines and doves and honey/all the songs of solomon saying//come away with me my love and/so we went - day stripped/of decorum old celtic crosses//starting to sway”. Toots adopted a kitten and was kind to people. Up to a point. Toots was Tracy Grant who loved with the author in a “ cave/on the south side of the island” where there was “an explosion of rainbows/in the spouting cave’s spray”. Toots/Tracy died. Skill and vitality make this handsome publication a true and tender elegy for pleasures shared and love recalled.

Language unfurls when English is converted by the sensibility of the Welsh. It becomes the preacher voice of R.S. Thomas. Mena Elfyn is a Bard colluding with “ the language of abroad”. Now, gloriously in Gillian Clarke’s new collection Zoology (Carcanet, £9.99) comes “space humming with murmurations of words”. Clarke was born in Cardiff in 1937 and now lives in Ceredigion. She is by national acclaim and popular assent the finest living Welsh poet. Her work is “one of those little shops too small/for the worlds they hold, where words/that sing you to sleep, stories that stalk your dreams,/open like golden windows in a wall”.

Always openings. Perceptions never alien to the new. No borders enclose her ideas. They are allowed to roam in her meticulous phrasing. And yet her greatest strength is, paradoxically, her moments of both closure and trapped moments of insight delivered to us grateful readers with faithful intelligence. It is the “Something (that) powers the morning, stops the air,/holds me in the planet of its stare”.

There is a welcome willingness to innovate in Miriam Nash’s first book-length collection, All the Prayers in the House (Bloodaxe, £9.95). Born in Inverness in 1985, she spent some of her childhood on the Isle of Erraid off the west coast of Scotland. Lighthouses and generations of Stevensons inform and inspire her poems: “To tend a light/is a religious thing”. And there is promise of more to come. The Wishing Stone declares: “Unhook the shadow from the lamp-/ I’ll chase it to its earthly ends.//Loose my thread from the family book/and set me where my tale begins”.