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What does the Devil like to read? In the title poem of David Kennedy’s new collection he delights in books that describe the ease with which people lose things, care about the wrong things, believe that caring about some things is unnecessary or that neglecting others is the right thing to do.
The relationship between care and neglect and how we choose or choose not to apply them is a constant theme in The Devil’s Bookshop. It is a relationship that is at the heart of moving elegies that rehabilitate Gaetan Dugas, the man erroneously held responsible for spreading AIDS through America in the 1980s, and pay tribute to psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who fought against prevailing medical opinion to give terminal patients a voice in their own care.
Care and neglect are also explored in a sequence about life in a marginalized village community; in poems that respond to the London bombings of 7/7 and the ensuing climate of paranoia and scrutiny; and in more meditative observations of light and old stones. The cumulative effect is a quiet but persuasive argument that it is by our acts of attention that we must be judged.
The Devil’s Bookshop closes with a sequence in homage to John Cage whose work in words, music and performance exemplifies the challenges and rewards of paying attention to attention itself.
‘It is David Kennedy’s generous curiosity about things, people and events – present and absent, near and distant – which gives his poetry such variety of form and subject. Ever alert to the mess we're in he can turn words round to make sense again with sudden humour: the reader learns to expect only the unexpected.’ —Alan Halsey
‘These poems are for thinking with as well as reading. They explore dreams and nightmares, philosophies and landscapes, the settled and the random, and are informed by a conscience simultaneously moral and lexical. They are discursive but can aim a sharp aphorism, fluid in form but structurally sound, sceptical and sensuous. At a time when the choice for poetry might appear to be between a confusion of multi-voices for the multi-verse and the too easily won solidity of the lyric I-for-an-eye, David Kennedy’s work is a welcome bridge. Walk across it slowly, savouring the gentle sounds of crafted timber and flowing water, the many changing perspectives.’ —Carol Rumens
‘Versatility, humour and aplomb – these are the hallmarks of David Kennedy's poetry. The Devil's Bookshop has them all!’ —John Hartley Williams
‘Aids continues to test many aspects of society: medical care, of course, but much more broadly, civic responsibility and social relationships. The opening poem is an elegy to one of the first known casualties, Gaetan Dugas, who died in 1984 in his early thirties. Dugas was traduced as 'Patient Zero' which, as Kennedy says, maligned him as "a hole, a dirty sink, a poisoned outlet". Here his humanity is recovered in an image, paradoxically, of a commemorative tree planted against one council's express wishes. In dignified defiance it "survives... untended" and stands "exchanging earth and heavens". The delicate charge of this is characteristic of a book that meditates on a pleasingly varied range of modern-day subjects, from the London bombings to the composer John Cage.’ —Richard Price, The Scotsman
‘...this book, with its use of John Cage’s mesostic form and its slightly dislocated use of both form and free verse, as well as prose, can be said to be a bridge between mainstream and non-mainstream. Anyone who’s interested in enjoyable challenges should cross this bridge immediately: there is a playfulness and a seriousness to these poems that is lovely. He’s difficult to quote from in a review: his poems are made of whole cloth; and they are full of interesting directions, make you think as well as smile, or sometimes feel melancholy. This one’s a keeper.’ —Steven Waling, The North
‘David Kennedy treats words as objects, sculpture. His mind has the mobility and dexterity of a pair of hands, and in this fine book Kennedy with the eye almost of a philosopher questions not just how language comes about but why.’ —Paul Stubbs, Poetry Wales