Organ Harvest by Damian Robin, published by Fulton Verse, 2018. Read three sonnets from the work here. by James Sale Damian Robin is well known to readers of the Society of Classical Poets web pages. His poetry is frequently published there, as are his comments on others' poetry; and also, like myself he is on the SCP Advisory Board and is a Brit! I should add, however, that although we live in a small country, he lives in the north and I live in the south, and we have never met; we are not part of a Brit cartel or part of a mutual self-congratulation society. Organ Harvest is a very ambitious collection of some 33 poems (coincidentally, perhaps, a Dantean-sized collection, certainly for the hell which he delineates) which explore a theme very dear to the SCP as a whole: namely, the forced removal of human organs from prisoners of conscience in China. I need hardly say, then, that his whole collection makes for arresting and gruesome reading, and there is actually no let-up in its relentless pace and intensity. If you wanted something light-hearted and beautiful, then this is not the collection for you. But before considering the merits of the poetry per se, one needs to comment on the quality of the book production itself, since it is noteworthy. Damian Robin has a background in typography, typesetting and print-making stretching back to the 1970s, and his wife, Katya Robin, is the design artist. This all makes for a minimalist but effective and lovely book: everything seems freshly laid out and clear, and it is very easy to read. Which I like. The proofing has been done meticulously and I could find only one tiny, tiny error: on page 10 the word "anquish" should be "anguish," but most people would hardly notice such a slip. So for those who treasure high production value books, then this one is for you. So what about the poetry? This is a condensed and extremely powerful collection of poems, exploring from several different angles, the harvesting of human organs in China. These angles include the effect of the harvesting on the victims, the recipients of the organs, the doctors, the managers and workers ("Staff discuss the project"), and even governments. On that latter point, Robin certainly ensures the UK government gets plenty of flak in its collusion with, or failure to speak out against, this dreadful practice. His poem, "Where's the bodies?," based on actual official documentation of what happens in Westminster, is a model of savage exposure, as layer by layer Robin exposes the humbug and hypocrisy of Sir Alan Duncan, the erstwhile Minister of State at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And this leads on to another observation about this poetry: the amount of research that Robin has done in order to write this book, including research by Nobel Peace prize nominated researchers. And so the facts all feed the passion, abhorrence and denunciation that lay at the root of this collection. Robin is using poetry as Dryden might have done over 300 years ago, to attack the powers-that-be and to stand up for truth and justice. Perhaps, too, as we might expect, alongside the different angles and perspectives, Robin uses a variety of forms as well. In this he is most inventive. There is an epigraphic poem before the contents page, "a." Here there are two innovations. First, the letter "a" is in red typeface as the anaphoric letter starting every line. Second, it is our first letter and a ubiquitous vowel, so that there is a sense as we read the poem of the bloody horror being built up line by line, detail by detail, until we reach the final line, which breaks away from the anaphora, to leave us with one word: "today." But here the "a" too is in red, and so we are brought up to the moment and still the blood is being spilt - today. (Notice, too, the subliminal fact that in "today" that following the blood red "a" is the letter "y," or is that the homophone "why"?) One of the best things about this collection is Robin's ability to conjure up some memorable phrases that exactly express the issue involved: "... Smelling disinfected floors / won't mop her mind." from "The transplant assistant" "...She bulges with contortion, / wants one more heart abortion." from "Her heart" "...conscience rots like clots in a vagina" from "Dead weight" "... moral snails …" from "Wet media" There is in all this, as I hope the four brief quotations makes clear, a genuine horror about what is going on in China, and the poet's language gets to the nub of the matter so powerfully that we almost don't want to read it. In other words, as political poetry, this is highly successful writing (though sadly in the West does anyone read poetry, apart from academics who get paid to do it?) My favourite poem in this collection, however, is "A trapped surgeon says what he does." This is one of many sonnets Robin writes within the book, and it captures beautifully the dilemma of those with a conscience, aware they are doing wrong, but fearful of what will happen to them if they resist the Party will. There is, as the whole collection makes crystal clear, no easy solution, no easy escape from the dilemmas that this practice throws up. Finally, these poems have been well crafted and highly impactful. But there is one small blemish in the writing that I would draw attention to: namely, the occasional grammatical solecism that just slightly detracts from the force of a powerful line. For example, in "Beauty in a butcher's shop," the concluding couplet, whilst good, is slightly marred: "In fact, hard truth is hard to bear and take, but beauty must have Truth, or else mistake." As I see it, the verb "mistake" is transitive and so requires an object: what does it mistake? But it is being used here intransitively, which feels as if the exigencies of the rhyme have overridden the grammar, but not justifiably so. It is a small correction, but I think the poetry would be even more powerful were this solecism not there. It should be clear from all I have written about Robin's poetry that this is a fine, passionate, committed collection. If you care about forced organ donor removal, Chinese politics, and man's inhumanity to man (and woman), you will find this a treasure trove. But as I said before: it is bleak, it is unremitting, and there are no laughs or easy moments along the way. Earlier I mentioned Dryden as a political poet, and here perhaps as I sum up it would be good to draw a distinction between the kind of political verse that Damian Robin writes and that of Dryden. Both of course are committed, but often Dryden's poetry involved irony and satire - essentially, he mocked his political opponents and it was the fact that the whole of London could mock them too, as a result of what they read, from which the poetry drew its strength. Robin has eschewed that methodology. Instead, what he has done is pile detail on detail, insight on insight, and really taken a huge cudgel with which to bludgeon the oppressors to death! In the long run I suspect that being earnest is less effective than generating laughter, but that said, this is a pretty substantial achievement and I salute Damian Robin for it.