THE FRIDAY BOOK: Warlocks, Warriors and Video Shops ; the Lammas Hireling Ian Duhig Picador, Pounds 7.99
Brownjohn, Alan, The Independent (London, England)
THERE'S A feeling that any kind of "difficult" writing is bound to be solemn. The case can certainly be argued about Pound or Eliot; but humour is central to the achievement of a Joyce or Beckett. Among recent writers indebted to the modernist masters in that respect are Paul Muldoon, WN Herbert and Ian Duhig: erudite and venturesome poets who specialise in a complexity which has one puzzling and laughing together.
The Celtic input into this tradition of humorous difficulty is intriguing. Muldoon is an Ulsterman, Herbert a Scot, Duhig the London-born child of Irish Catholic parents. Duhig is the most economical. The Lammas Hireling, shortlisted for this year's TS Eliot Prize, is his fourth book in 12 years and, at 69 pages, his longest by a short head. In his last volume, Nominies, he seemed to opt for a more direct and accessible style. This book requires greater concentration.
Many poems here owe their existence to commissions from magazines, arts bodies and festivals; two went up on lavatory walls in Salisbury. Some show duties admirably, and soberly, fulfilled. Others suggest a wicked relish for the task: "The Lark in the Clear Air" is a beautifully absurd account of a girl celebrating her birthday by jumping into "cooling cow- shit", and "Vilbja" is about a curse which turns a woman's lover into water:
"suddenly, mid-lie, he stalled above me. …