Landfill Press, 2006 - £3/$5
Andrew Zurcher is smarter than I am. Certainly better educated, though apparently he is too modest, or modern, to employ upper-case letters. The cover of this pocket-size pamphlet says nothing about him, but the poems say quite a bit: he loves the Shakespearean sonnet to the point where he’s willing to fling out 56 of them, many in high Elizabethan diction (“no man but man with nothing will be pleased/ till he disseised of nothing can be eased”). He also knows his Homer, and seems to have structured the pamphlet as a riff on The Odyssey—the first sonnet is titled ‘Kalypso’ (at least I think so; the title’s in Greek) and there are others that allude to, or translate from, the epic. Not that he gives the reader a clear map of the journey. The sonnets, crammed two to a page, are numbered in meandering, more or less descending order. Some have no titles; others have cryptic ones like ‘for.’. There are notes at the back, but I wouldn’t call them helpful, since they consist of quotes from Aristotle, Averroës, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard and other heavyweights. Zurcher, whoever he is, plays with the big boys.
Reader, I Googled him. He teaches English at Queens’ College, Cambridge and has written scholarly works on Shakespeare and Spenser, including a forthcoming book on Spenser’s linguistic experimentation. Which tells me that Elizabethan wordplay is not an affectation for Zurcher but something of a native tongue. And suddenly I see that “for.” is an elegant little disquisition on the prefix ‘for’—forget, forgive, forbid, forsake, forbear. Its final couplet, “i mean no less to you, nor say no more/ than, when you read it, what a word is for”, is very much a declaration of love. There are sonnets in this collection that are less mannered and more emotionally direct, but to reach Zurcher’s true heart, the reader must sit like Penelope at her loom, unravelling his intricate weavings.
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