Playing with the male lyric tradition,
Rembrandt Would Have Loved You focusses on the gaze of the woman artist or poet, in a woman’s eye-view of a love affair and of a man. Shifting between vulnerability and guilt, trust and doubt, tenderness, reproach and sexuality, these bold poems explore the risks and complexities of falling in love. Wonderfully versatile in tone, they blend the lyrical and the colloquial, formality and wit, myth and the Spice Girls.
The collection includes the poem that won the 1996 UK National Poetry Competition, “Icicles Round a Tree in Dumfriesshire”, which judge Jo Shapcott called “a daring blend of fire and ice, passion and design”. “Emotion, wit, music, texture and elegance,” wrote another judge Paul Durcan. “If Wallace Stevens and Anna Akhmatova were one and the same person, you’d have Ruth Padel”.
Chatto & Windus, Poetry Book Society Choice, shortlisted for 1998 T.S. Eliot Prize.
“Poise, delicacy and technical venturesomeness, shining imagination and flights of exuberant imagery: this book contained most of the best love poems of the year.”
The Sunday Times
“An iridescent sheen of magical surface undergirded by heart and mind and devastating depth: a poetry of risk and dare, more Hughes than Plath, more Stevens than Frost. The prize-winning opening poem offers enough dazzle and flash for an entire book.”
“This book has the quality of a breakthrough. Padel’s linguistic energy presses at the edge of form without destroying it. Her strongly constructed forms encapsulate the imaginative exuberance, the reckless magic-realism of poems that go anywhere: into space, to Brazil and Kazhakstan. We live at an interestingly dangerous juncture: this is the womanly erotic, with self-conscious demandingness and mad generosity, inventing – in Auden’s phrase – “new styles of architecture”.
Carol Rumens, The Independent
“Dazzling linguistic accomplishment, wit and self-mockery: life-enhancing and desolate at the same time, without making a meal of it.”
“Sheer linguistic genius, with images of a peculiar powerful beauty.”
Maggie O’Farrell, Independent
“Her vividly realized sensous imagery is teased into meaning in enchanting lyric moments, in which the fleeting passions of time are stilled into a fragile eternity. Her finely cadenced, beautiful fictions accord the hard truths of time, pain and mortality their proper weight.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Her work has a speedy omnivorous relish, and an aching, exactly rendered mixture of sensuality and affection.”
“Syntax with a Browningesque eloquence, alert to transience, shot through with danger and risk; supple, intense writing, beautifully handled, with a welcome strangeness and strength.”
“Very original: her book is rightly called Rembrandt Would Have Loved You”.
P.J. Kavanagh, Daily Telegraph
“Irreverent and courageous: a demanding poetry, like Donne’s. Musically sophisticated, but resisting the seduction of its own sound.”
“Phenomenally energetic writing: intimacy, strong characterisation and an affecting modesty.”
Michael Hofmann, The Times
“Full of verve, eloquence and music.”
Helen Dunmore, The Times
“An intense and sensitive sequence with tremendous richness of sustained images.”
Marina Warner, Best Books, Independent on Sunday
“An extraordinary group of love poems. Grown-up poems, written with frankness, self-knowledge, a wry intelligence and a musical ear. Her voice has settled into a rich, convincing fluidity, a spry lightness of touch that almost masks her attention to form. Most of the book is taken up with fine narrative poems of page-turning intensity, but the collection also contains some other notable work, including the deft and moving elegy, “A Drink in the New Piazza”.
Poetry Book Society Bulletin
“The language has a sumptuous rightness, tension and chastity – this is a ‘Song of Songs’ for the Nineties”.