So I’m onto the selection from Acrimony (1986), one of the most widely admired collections of that decade, and I can see why.
It starts with Ancient Evenings, a recollection of a relationship with a woman named Antonia. MH inserts the tone of romanticism, “but I had you – my Antonia!” into this plain style poem for comic effect. The images are astonishing – the friends being photographed under daft advertisement hoardings, the tins of soup the narrator boils in his kettle – still in their cans! – the ridiculously strong coffee he brews in the dark. And Antonia’s quietness, so great that “it seemed like an invitation/ to be disturbed.”
The poem never quite goes where you think it’s going to go, and the final image is one out of the top drawer of surprises:
..........................................…I sat us both in an armchair
and toppled over backwards. I must have hoped
the experience of danger would cement our relationship.
Nothing was broken, and we made surprisingly little noise.
What seemed like an important relationship meant next to nothing. I guess that’s what he’s trying to say. Also the experience of being young and ‘overheated’, but with no cement.