Link to From Inside/ High Window Press

Chilcot, Arkan, Dick Cheney, the Middle East: subjects, some topical, that find expression in these new poems which explore the genre of “Immoralism” – a notion developed from the writings of André Gide which describes a tendency to identify with the suspect, as with the personae of Robert Browning.  The words take us beneath the external face of society.  A long piece, My Part in the Downfall of Everything, is a satire on deceit.  Beyond the pale of convenient mores, there are lines here which may have lost touch with decency.  The poems hone the edge of a trope that is perhaps more sinister than irony. Their author taught in prisons until he was taken off the books for helping the inmates write material the authorities deemed inappropriate. Sometimes an incarcerated view and a criminal underworld get contrasted with an “overworld” of privilege and conspiracy.  Meaning here has a swingeing accuracy, which is perhaps remarkable, coming from a poet who pioneered abstraction in the seventies.  Yet nothing can be taken for granted.  The words still have a life of their own.

‘… Howell has style to spare and is happily unclassifiable.’  Peter Porter,  The Observer


‘…So much good poetry that one is astonished that Howell’s name is not better known.’   John Greening, The Poetry Review


‘…Curiously strong.’ John Ashbery, The PN Review


‘It is possible to overstress the similarities between one writer and another.  Howell, however, courts such an approach - not because he is an emulator, rather that he is an eclectic original’ – Peter Reading, The Times Literary Supplement


From Inside: Anthony Howell

The High Windows Press, 72 Welholme Avenue, Grimsby DN32 0BP. 102 pages, perfect bound.

£9.95. ISBN 9781326741334


This is Anthony Howell’s nineteenth poetry collection, so he’s got form. That throwaway sub-clause is apt: Howell taught in prisons until, according to the blurb, the authorities saw what he was encouraging the convicts to write. Evidently

From Inside draws on this experience: ‘there are lines here which may

have lost touch with decency’ (ibid). For example, in ‘Dues’ Howell has the poem’s speaker protest, ‘whether that time in Manilla / Could be construed as a rape, I mean / Technically speaking.’ Or this from ‘Cuntaholic’:


Just want to goggle at bottoms and fronts

In knickers or not, all hairy or bare,

And masturbate ad infinitum. Hate

Being without an aching, do-it-myself erection.


I’m sure many will be offput. But note the subtlety of that line break after ‘Hate,’ how the speaker is made to self-castigate. I want to dispel any impression that this collection, though sometimes sordid, lacks artistry and poetic command. From the first it oozes style e.g., this from ‘Homily’:


Who will pity the charmer who is bitten with a serpent?

Though the need be urgent,

Nobody at all.

Isn’t this akin to throwing stones

When glass comprises your external wall?


There is much to commend. In fact, I would say the collection’s biggest flaw is not its moral equivocation but its tendency towards polemic. Its centrepiece, a 215-line poem ‘My Part in the Downfall of Everything (A Satire on Deceit),’ ends: Understanding that others stoke divisiveness, / And harems aren’t laid on for one in Paradise.’ Subtle, eh? Or there’s this (from ‘Terror and Tyranny’):


We hear a lot about terror.

Nobody talks about tyranny these days.

Isn’t cool to refer to it.

Or we get opinions mired in bullshit...


Howell is a fine stylist with much he wants to say, but, it seems, only a sledgehammer with which to say it. Nonetheless, From Inside is a provocation worth breaking out.

Review by Andy Hickmott in THE JOURNAL #52, September 2017