George Szirtes’ ingenious project of subjecting thirty canonical poets to a high-intensity workout provides brilliant and often hilarious results. From Dylan Thomas falling off the treadmill after too much apple juice to Sylvia Plath’s furious tirade against her trainers, the collection is a delicious roller-coaster of high and low comedy.
Poets from Lord Byron to John Berryman and from Emily Dickinson to Elizabeth Bishop are depicted in the throes of (often reluctant) exercise and their poetic styles satirised. Szirtes’ homage to Philip Larkin presents an abject figure striving to get fit:
“I work all day and lift barbells at night
Waking to find myself prostrate on the floor,
Exhausted, dizzy, always mildly tight,
Then slope off vaguely lurching for the door…”
from ‘Philip Larkin Goes to the Gym’
There’s an added bonus in the form of a poem by Martin Figura which envisages George himself on a treadmill. Written in the styles of the poets themselves, the collection showcases Szirtes’ technical virtuosity and presents this leading contemporary poet at his most versatile and engaging.