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Voyaging Out is the tenth volume of Peter Abbs’ poetry.
His new book divides into two parts. The first half, Peregrinations, offers an anthology of poems which range from the experience of love to memories of childhood, from philosophical reflections on art and poetry to the dramatic re-telling of other lives. There are poems here about Nietzsche as a schoolboy, the public death of Pope John Paul the Second and of the painter Pierre Bonnard’s erotic obsession with Martha.
One of the new themes is travel: an affirmation of the place of voyaging, both further out into the world and further inwards into the distracted soul. In these poems, celebrating a movement south, ‘peregrine flights’ become metaphors for a deep inner pilgrimage.
The second part, Transformations, offers three sequences from three great poets in the tradition: Rumi, Dante and Rilke. These poems are not literal translations but work in the manner of metamorphoses.
Transformations is a new departure in the poet’s work. The aim is to convert the original poems into contemporary English and, in the case of the Dante sequence, into contemporary political and ecological contexts. Their purpose is to keep faith with the encompassing spirit of these seminal writers, to bring them forcibly into the modern imagination and, in so doing, to keep alive a conversation with the past.
It’s hard for us to grasp transcendence –
even Orpheus shrinks from the hour
when he moves swiftly beyond us.
Yet when his hand slips from the familiar lyre
there’s no subterfuge and nothing’s superfluous.
Imagination vaults to its freedom.
‘His latest collection, distilled from seven previous volumes as well as more recent work, displays Mr Abbs as the brave and considerable poet he is; a seeker of the truth behind things, a metaphysician, and perhaps above all an alchemist.’ —Review of Selected Poems, The Economist
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