Against art of this order, Wallace-Crabbe’s poems about the (seemingly) most mundane of things (vegetables, household furniture etc.), can seem trivial in their determination to demonstrate, as the twentieth century realised, that there is nothing about which poetry can’t be written. Twelve page sequences such as ‘Bits and Pieces’ with subjects as various as an artichoke, a banana, a tin opener and a washing machine may seem excessive in a ‘Selected’ but, read carefully, its constituent parts are almost always making some sly point about the humans who use or interact with these things as much as having any particular concern with the items described.
On balance, however, it is the philosophical poems which predominate and for which Wallace-Crabbe will probably be best remembered. His poems in this vein are agnostic in the best sense, evocative of all that we can’t know while full of the countervailing pleasures we can rejoice in anyway. The situation is nicely summed up in his poem, ‘Why Do We Exist?’ where the poet describes for us a child in a back yard who ‘knows, / he is very small in the garden, / smaller still in the world, / as nothing in the … / how do you call it? … / universe. / So that his being there, // fragile in a rustling suburban garden / among heaving ripples of green, / is a kind of miracle. // In the end he is grateful.’
A comparable gratitude will pervade most readers at the end of this book. Although Wallace-Crabbe, unlike Kant, offers no over-arching ‘system’ – and even less ‘hope’ in metaphysical terms – his readers will almost certainly be left significantly wiser … and smiling as well.