Winner of the 2019 Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize
Ned Denny’s Unearthly Toys are treacherous playthings, as rigorously structured as they are thematically unsettling, a ‘rhapsody of rags gathered from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled about’ (as Robert Burton dubbed his Anatomy of Melancholy).
The collection opens on a twilit, numinous world of exotic drugs, subterranean drums and visionary apprehension in which – to quote Twin Peaks, a recurrent leitmotif – ‘the woods are wondrous … but strange’. Interspersed with original poems in a variety of complex forms is a series of illuminated and darkly erotic ‘remakes’ of other poets’ work, from the Old English classic The Wanderer to late Baudelaire via Goethe, Cavalcanti, Li Po, enigmatic troubadour lyrics, and the medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen. Politics are never far away: modern man’s severance from the earth, the sacred, and his own inner self has grave consequences.