All the Poems of Muriel Spark

Fireworks explode over Brighton on the cover of this handsome book from the New York publisher New Directions. An appropriately revelatory image perhaps, given that most readers know Spark from her novels and short stories. No Spark poems have been published in book form since Going up to Sotheby’s in 1982; before that, one would have to travel back to 1967 and Macmillan’s publication entitled, with misplaced augury, Collected Poems 1.

As it turns out, this new collection is not comprehensive, as the title suggests: inside are not all the poems of Muriel Spark, but her output since the late 1940s. In fact Spark has been publishing poetry for over seventy years. Her first-ever publication (at the age of fifteen, under her maiden name, Camberg) was a prize-winning poem entered for a competitition marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1932: ‘Out of a Book’, was published in broadside by Millar & Burden of Leith, and only one extant copy is known; it is kept in Missouri. The precociously esoteric poems Spark published in Gillespie’s School Magazine are also notable by their absence. To my mind, elusiveness can be a virtue in poetry, but not to the point of invisibility…

Counterbalancing the omission of Spark’s juvenilia, it is most welcome that New Directions does include Spark’s translations of Horace and Catullus, as well as poems which have appeared in the Scotsman, the New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement. The seventy poems collected here include villanelles, rondels, epigrams and a twenty-one page ballad. In her introduction, Spark praises the decision of her editor, Barbara Epler, not to present the poems chronologically. For instance, a mysteriously shrill poem, ‘Panickings’, which I read in the Tatler only last year, appears on page forty-two. This arrrangement lends an enjoyably impressionistic feel, but does preclude the definitiveness and convenience of a formal, chronological listing.

When all is said and done, Spark is fully present in all her acerbity her mordancy and wit

… however, I would still have preferred a complete collection, offering in one sweep the totality of her published output, including work from her teenage years.

Copyright Eric Dickson 2005.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>