The Talking Horse

Long-time childrens’ author Mark Haddon took the bestseller lists by surprise with the success of his last offering, Whitbread
winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He
returns this month with another taste of the unexpected: his first volume of
poetry, the copiously titled The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the
Village Under the Sea.
Haddon’s voice throughout the volume is at once authoritative and
self-depreciating. “Look at you. You’re reading poetry”, Haddon taunts
his reader in Trees, continuing the self-conscious dialogue established
in the opening poem Go, Litel Bok. He puts out an official warning from
his board of poetic censors with This poem is Certificate 18 and in
Poets, he takes a fond but far from sentimental look at the workers of
his own profession.Like the poet’s he describes, Haddon sees the striking in the ordinary: like them he is aware of “how the
poured creamer pleats and billows in their coffee”, and sees when
“cigarette smoke does its poisonous little ballet”. This poet finds his muse in
life, but also in art, and he draws the two together beautifully.
The poems are packed with references to and inspiration from other
works, from Horace, through Chaucer, to the modern poets and beyond.
Ben Nicholson’s painting Christmas Night, 1930 is vividly described in
a poem of the same name and John Buchan’s novel The House of the Four
Winds is condensed into an intriguing narrative poem.
Time is a conspicuous presence in the book. Modern and ancient
entwine
with ease. Haddon produces fresh, lucid translations of a selection of
odes from Horace, which charge the book with a sense of the impending
and ephemeral, yet in their tales of jealous lovers and torrid affairs,
remind us that some things never change.Sharp, human and at times surreal, this first output of verse by Haddon
showcases a bold imagination and a confident talent. Let us hope that
there are more such surprises in store.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005