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Invitation to View by Peter Scupham

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The poems in Invitation to View, Peter Scupham’s hugely welcome new book, which he was dissuaded from calling Curtain Call, often guess and puzzle, offering possible and impossible interpretations. Some respond to fragments of the past, personal and historical, which haunt the present. Yeats wrote in ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, ‘Man is in love, and loves what vanishes,/What more is there to say?’ Vanishing is as chancy a business as the grin on the face of the Cheshire Cat.

All business is unfinished business: one can be caught out by a sudden phrase, or the look back of a landscape once seen sporting a different disguise. Invitation to View is framed by poems considering possible visitors to the poet’s 400 year-old house long after he and his partner have left it behind; it is haunted by the variety of the efforts and gestures they have made in bringing house and garden alive. Time will do its best to modify and forget all that they leave. Many gestures were theatrical: poetry picnics, productions of Shakespeare… the dead welcomed with the living. Tom Stoppard’s words from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead can provide an absent epigraph: ‘Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.’

Scupham at 88 is writing with all his poetic wits about him. He runs fabled Mermaid Books, a second-hand book business in Norfolk whose catalogues are masterpieces of bibliographical wit. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His Collected Poems was published by Carcanet in 2002, and in 2011 his collection Borrowed Landscapes. His next collection is anticipated for 2033…

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