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The China Shop Pictures

The China Shop Pictures

This is the back cover blurb of The China Shop Pictures (Shearsman 2012):

The China Shop Pictures ranges widely in time, space and subject matter, encompassing Jacobite wine glasses, pedagogical horses, a Japanese invention for walking on water, and a medley of viewpoints both famous and anonymous— from Virgil and Gérard de Nerval to a woman who's in love with 'the monkey they left on the moon' and a man who complains (unfairly) to a sales assistant that the umbrella he's bought has a design fault.

Saxton's hallmark virtuosity of form is everywhere apparent. Each of the book's four sections is generously furnished with sonnets, and there's also a villanelle, a sestina (adapted), a limerick, and a long narrative poem in classic ode stanzas. The 'triplet', a three-line rhyming form invented by Saxton, yoking conventional with consontantal rhyme in a binding clinch, is used to give structural reinforcement to a handful of meditations that strain at the limits of logic, including the title poem, 'The China Shop Pictures'. Even when drawn to modernist abstraction, Saxton is always precise and vivid: these poems teem with tangible detail. They also crackle with lightning-flashes of wit. As the collection progresses, its character modulates from resonant ambiguity to plain-spoken transparency, and humour comes increasingly to the fore. The book concludes with an comically irreverent 30-stanza demolition of Shakespeare's The Tempest in Byronic ottava rima.

Permeating the collection is the presence of animals—sonnets compared to egrets, a mayfly experiencing its micro-menopause, frogs raining down from the clouds, a bull rampaging in the china shop of the title, a saucy parrot 'imperiously calling for brandy' and, unforgettably, the duel of testosterone-driven bulls in Virgil's Georgics.

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Two poems included in The China Shop Pictures:

The Doll’s House

Dolls grow too big for their rooms and live outside,
or perhaps her room is a status-proud backdrop
scaled to appear a stroll away, or a gallop
on a wonderful pony she’d look so sweet bestride.

But when the house is open and fills your view,
that gate-click is your friend en route to a modelling
audition – or, if it’s a Swiss house, yodelling.
Or she’s housekeeping so fast to keep things new,

she’s disappeared. She’s dependably nice. In bed,
your cheek touched by her larger self’s soft curls,
you cherish your collection of glimpses, like hen’s


The Roof of the World

Imagine being a nun on a plateau
among lamas – if there’s a lovelier life
I’d like to know. High above hills of tea
her cup’s the sky, her brew’s a solitary leaf

the porter brought and slipped into her prayers,
her dreams being locked. One door of the chapel
releases a prism of bright surprise.
A Himalayan morning greets her pearl:

red bull let loose among milk-swollen cows
that rub the sleep of ages from their eyes,
with hooves – a miracle that lifts the curse
from beasts not born to touch themselves with ease.

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