Ask the Moon: New and Collected Poems (1948-2014)
Dannie Abse, who died last September aged 91, had two concurrent careers: he was a respected chest physician and a highly admired writer of poetry, memoirs, novels and plays. This edition showcases his elegant, unshowy use of form and his thoughtful but playful tone in affecting poems rooted in his own life, reflecting on love, faith, parenthood, medicine, grief, old age. Abse was equally adept at wittily co-opting figures from the classical or biblical worlds (Cain and Abel on the razz in 1940s Soho) and capturing with gut-punching clarity life’s milestones (“Men become mortal the night their fathers die”).
Hutchinson, 345pp, £20
The Poet’s Tale
The year 1386, says the Columbia professor Paul Strohm, was the unmaking of Chaucer as a public figure and the making of him as a writer. It brought the end of his marriage and his bureaucratic and parliamentary careers as well as his ascendancy on the coat-tails of John of Gaunt. He retired to Kent and there began work not just on Troilus and Criseyde but putting flesh on his long-held plan for an English Decameron: The Canterbury Tales. Literary history is just one part of Strohm’s story; he adds biography and vivid social history, which makes for a fascinating study of Chaucer’s – and his pilgrims’ – world.
Profile Books, 284pp, £15.99
Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box
Editors: Philip Cowley and Robert Ford
The reasons we vote for a particular party are not all based on sound logic. This collection of “50 things you need to know about British elections” suggests that we are subliminally influenced by everything from a candidate’s position on the ballot paper (the higher up, the better) and whom you live with (if they don’t vote, there’s only a 10 per cent chance that you will) to your sex life (Labour supporters fantasise more widely than Conservatives, apparently). This book is well worth reading before 7 May.
Biteback, 306pp, £14.99