An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
10 St Martin's Close
ISBN 0 904872 41 6

email Katabasis
visit Katabasis's Website

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 10th December 2007.

I cannot be the only person who once thought there was a British writer called Christopher Hampton. Fortunately I soon discovered that there are two. The other one writes plays and film scripts. This one writes poetry and politics, sometimes separately, sometimes combined.

Hampton cares passionately about the world and its people, and objects to the way that the world has been taken over by terrorism and the war on terror — really two sides of the same coin. How can this world be returned to those who need and deserve it? Where are the resources and even the language with which to challenge this situation and turn it around?

In this sequence of 54 poems, divided into three parts, Hampton begins to look for answers to these questions. But it isn't easy, as the opening poem, THE RIGHT WORDS, reminds us:

	You're going to have to conjure the words
	from the back of the mind, the dark of the throat,
	as birds do by instinct, startling the dawn
	with a music as effortless as the movement
	of air or the coming of light. But how to manage that,
	to pitch the notes the way such instinct works?
	It isn’t so easy . . .
And yet Hampton makes the right words seem easy, with poetry as full of passion as of reason, that flows effortlessly across the page like a stream flowing through the meadows in spring.

There is no doubt where Hampton’s politics is to be found, even though it requires some courage even to say the name, as Hampton says in SOCIALISM:

	Why can't we speak of it now
	with the confidence of summer flowers?

	Why do we have to apologies
	to those who've swamped us into silence,
	trampled all our banners down, made millions
	out of what their brokers conjure from the air
	in a drench of ground-polluting wealth?
Hampton's sympathies are with the dispossessed and the oppressed of the world, from the victims of Pinochet's fascism to the peasants who are bombed in the name of freedom. In searching for hope in the future Hampton enlists the help of a variegated chorus, from Sidney and Shakespeare to Neruda and Kazantzakis, via Heine, Rosa Luxemburg and Lukacs. His range of reference is broad: history, literature, music and nature are interwoven with politics (these are the BORDER CROSSINGS) to produce poetry that is heavy with resonance but appealing to the eye and the ear. The political stance is straightforward and honest, never crude or propagandist. Behind all is a love of nature and a lyrical ability that meet at their best in VOICES. Here is the whole poem:
	Speak the voices of the garden quiet
	against post-modernist clamour.
	from the swiftness of a Mozart ending
	to the nightingale's night-notes
	pitched against the darkness of C minor
	in a long vibrating D that breaks
	the rain's monotony. You hear it?
	Listen! What it speaks of, riding
	the choral ground-bass of the frogs,
	we have no words for, there in the depths
	of the garden oaks above the water,
	singing hidden in the dark —
	a Philomel unreconciled to crime:
	the violated body, the revenge,
	the punishment; of all of which
	throughout the Spring — day/night — she sings.
In the face of such problems as the Bush-fire and the North Pole’s melting ice-cap, says Hampton in THINGS TAKING THEIR COURSE,
	this isn't the agenda some of us had planned.
You can chose to swim against the current, but
	who’s got strength enough
	to keep that up and not get swept downstream?
There are no easy answers, but Hampton's commitment to the search, and the poetry he produces on the way, will provide some support for the questing swimmer.

reviewer: Andrew Belsey.