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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

All the Poems of Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark

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To purchase All the Poems of Muriel Spark

Title: All the Poems of Muriel Spark
Author: Muriel Spark
Genre: Poems
Written: (2004)
Length: 127 pages
Availability: All the Poems of Muriel Spark - US
All the Poems of Muriel Spark - UK
All the Poems of Muriel Spark - Canada
  • The poems in this volume were originally written between the late 1940s and 2003

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Our Assessment:

B+ : assured, and varied

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 11/12/2004 Ian Sansom
London Rev. of Books . 15/12/2005 Susan Eilberg
The Spectator . 2/10/2004 Frank Kermode
TLS . 20/8/2004 James Campbell

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is clearly a concern and interest in certain technical forms; there is a ballad, an ode, a couple of villanelles. There's the sharp intelligence and wry wit demonstrated in poems that function mainly as conundrums, unanswered questions and, possibly, as skipping rhymes" - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

  • "The finest poems are brief, and include the strange 'On the Lack of Sleep'. Some later work is in a beautifully controlled, sometimes Audenesque, conversational style. (...) Spark is not afraid to be wise, grave on occasion, as well as, sometimes on the same occasion, mischievous." - Frank Kermode, The Spectator

  • "On the whole, Spark's faux-naif whimsy is preferable to her symbolism. The former tendency existed from the beginning and -- once the reader has sorted out the chronology of the poems, which are not arranged in sequence - it is possible to see it developing into something like a style." - James Campbell, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       All the Poems of Muriel Spark isn't a very big collection: seventy-three poems in all (written over nearly six decades). The Ballad of the Fanfarlo takes up almost a fifth of the book, and there are also several translations (Horace, Catullus).
       The poems are not presented chronologically, the dates (often approximate) only given in the table of contents. It's not clear that it would have made that much of a difference to present them in the order that they were written -- from the beginning there is variety here -- but Spark believes this presentation (arranged by editor Barbara Epler) "gives more coherence and novelty".
       In her Foreword Spark admits that she no longer recalls what she meant in some of the poems:

Edinburgh Villanelle for instance: what did I mean by "Heart of Midlothian, never mine" ? (...) I have no idea what I meant by the words in the poem, "never mine", and yet I meant them at the time.
       Though best-known as a writer of fiction, Spark also states: "I have always thought of myself as a poet." An editor at Poetry Review, she certainly displays familiarity and command of the form. She is not a predictable poet: there's much variety here in both in form and content. From the dense and opaque to the very light, this collection is full of the unexpected.
       The poems that describe simple events or ideas -- anecdotal, almost -- are the most accessible, and some of the most successful. Authors' Ghost, for example, beautifully captures the sense of books having undergone some change when one re-reads them. Spark's sharp humour is also evident in many: there's no sentimentality at all in The Goose, showing that a golden goose's usefulness depends on circumstances (in hers: "Myself, I killed the cackling thing and I ate it"), and her Fruitless Fable is an amusing take on one sort of possible tyranny of technology.
       Some of the poems, almost wistful, are surprisingly affecting. Hats describes a lost poem ("How did it go, that poem ? / I wish I could remember.") while The Three Kings -- written in the 1950s -- sounds entirely contemporary, as the three Wise Men find they are no longer wanted when they return home ("Perhaps they will be better off without us, / But where do we go from here ?" they wonder).
       Publishing at most a few poems every year, these are indeed occasional pieces (though no less thorough for that). There's not the sense here one often gets in poetry collections, of the author offering variations on a theme or trying to work an idea out. Spark's pieces stand largely on their own, and they can and probably should be savoured on their own. (Those looking for Spark the novelist here will likely be disappointed or at least surprised: these are quite different creations.)
       Accomplished stuff, well worth a look.

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All the Poems of Muriel Spark: Reviews: Muriel Spark: Other books by Muriel Spark under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       British author Muriel Spark lived 1918 to 2006.

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© 2004-2022 the complete review

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