Gareth Reeves, who runs the MA module in Writing Poetry, has just published (with Carcanet) a new collection of poetry, To Hell with Paradise: New and Selected Poems. To Hell with Paradise draws on his earlier collections Real Stories (1984) and Listening In (1993), to which he has added new work, including the sequence Nuncle Music.
Distance occasioned much of the writing in Gareth Reeves’ first book of poems, Real Stories: in California, where he lived in the 1970s, he wrote of England, in England of California. The Californian landscapes and people are wryly observed, with affection and wit. As Charles Boyle put it in a review: “imagine Joan Didion, say, in Durham.”
“The poems are usually short but carefully constructed around perceptions of loneliness, full of sharp but discreet observation that mounts like evidence”
George Szirtes, Critical Quarterly
But distance is not solely geographical: mortality and loss find expression in a sequence from Reeves’ second book, Listening In. At the heart of this are poems that recall his father, the poet and critic James Reeves. One poem recalls Robert Graves saying to him, “Difficult being in the poetry biz, with your dad.” Memories such as these lead Reeves to depict the “complexity and ambiguity of emotion which perhaps must always inform the relationship between son and father,” according to reviewer John Heath-Stubbs.
In other poems in Listening In, the quirks of memory stimulate a difficult truth-seeking: about an organ playing chemistry teacher, a black American con-artist, about selling blood in pre-Junta Greece. In poems such as “High Life” and “Gaps,” or “The Cockroach Sang in the Plane Tree” (which is about nuclear annihilation), the concern with mortality finds bleak and disconcerting expression.
The new book To Hell With Paradise includes a generous selection of poems from both of these earlier works, with twenty-five new poems added. Also included is a selection from his most recent work, “Nuncle Music,” a vivid psycho-drama in the voice of Dmitri Shostakovich.
As well as being a practising poet, Gareth Reeves has also written critical books on twentieth-century poetry, including T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice.