Critical Opinions

Reviewers of Gravitations (1979):

Anne Stevenson: "Its themes of doubt and perplexity are handled with marvellous skill by a poet whose gifts, both as a writer and as an observer of human kind, are remarkable and enduring" (Lines Review)

Andrew Greig: "As narrator he is extremely democratic, letting the reader in to his doubts, indecisions and personal bias with regard to the story, inviting rather than repelling thought..... Despite its length, 'The Hands of Felicity' holds one's attention. There is remarkable variety of mood, perception and pace. Above all, the muscularity of Black's rhythm wards off the danger inherent in long narrative poems.... I think of Charlie Mingus's observation, 'You can't play a wrong note – if you know how to follow it up!' (Akros)

Ewart Milne: "He walks in his own style like a leopard among rocks, surefooted, agile and muscularly balanced... those who like to read exciting tales, whether they think they like poetry or not, should read him" (Literary Review)

Reviewers of Claiming Kindred (2011)

Kate Kellaway: "This is his first collection for 20 years and is written in a spirit of inquiry. What makes his poems unusually attractive is their clarity: you never have the sense - as sometimes you do with modern poetry - of any solipsistic disdain towards the reader. These poems are intellectually vigorous, witty, touching and humane.... The collection covers a huge range of subjects: childhood, mortality and love. Only one poem refuses to give up its secrets and it is, against the odds, a beauty..." (Observer)

Mario Relich: "Black's voice is that of a globally and environmentally engaged aesthete, which in his case is no contradiction.... he is also very much a risk-taker in his deployment of myth and metaphor; surprise is an endearing aspect of his poems." (The Dark Horse)

Ian Pople: "The finest poem in this book is the wonderful St. John on Patmos. Black addresses St. John in that difficult form, the second person narrative; difficult because you can end up in an odd collusion with the reader, as if the reader were the you too. Black avoids this ambiguity in the precise way he depicts St John:

                           ....You are ageless now,
                           Gaunt awkward angular man, unoccupied,
                           And surprisingly healthy considering what you have come through….

That lovely 'unoccupied' stops the momentum of the other adjectives in the line, and forces the reader to think about the visions that would have occupied the younger man. But not so self-consciously that the overall picture of the divine is obstructed, or the poem thrown out of kilter.However, Black's interests really lie in what 'the divine' does after the composition of the Book of Revelation, how he goes back to living normally, but not normally. As Black puts it,

                           And now your other life begins – or not begins,
                           But is foregrounded, is the life you will live
                           Until your death, which is a part of it.

Black's doubling, hesitant syntax mimics the life of a man who has got almost as close to God as it is possible to get, and yet lived to tell the tale. Whether or not Black is a believer, he's been able here to empathise with someone whose religious transports changed the world. And he's created a very great poem." (Warwick Review)