So Glad I’m Me by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books, £9.95)

Lazy readers often use the notion of poetry as obfuscation to avoid engaging their brains. But sometimes their bafflement is apposite. Lumsden’s poems are the worst sort: a random agglomeration of words and ugly phrases that most of the time mean nothing to everyone but him. His "conflation" poetry, for instance, where one subject, normally a popular song, is used to shed light on another, leaves us in the dark. There are a few small, personal poems that glow with clarity: The Hoopoe is about the irrational nature of love, and Ashnar Sarkar, Aged 5, depicts a child’s triumphant and determined bike ride. But, then, turn the page, and there is yet another tedious and showy list poem. This is Lumsden’s 10th collection, but it reads like undergraduate free verse: frothy logorrhoea (see, we can all do it). There is no metre, no control and, despite Lumsden’s light-hearted tone, no fun here. One might tentatively conclude there is also no poetry.

The Art Of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee (Profile Books, £9.99)

Gore Vidal once said something to the effect that we measure our success against the failings of our friends. In this history of four creative relationships between modern painters, Smee shows that competition might be bad for the mind but can be good for the art. He examines the pairings of Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, and Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Smee has written five books on Freud, and his chapter on Bacon and Freud is the most revealing. The flesh-obsessed Bacon allowed his friend to stop caring about convention and trust instinct. Similarly, Pollock – surely the most overrated painter of the 20th century? – taught de Kooning that a touch of naivety, in life and art, can do wonders when searching for a new style. Smee’s writing is engaging and journalistic, if a little lazy at times. But, overall, this is an enjoyable riposte to the idea of the artist as lone hero.

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by PD James (Faber & Faber, £7.99)

PD James was often commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write crime stories for their Christmas editions. This slim book presents four of the best. It comes with James’s handy introduction on the origins of the short story crime genre, and Val McDermid’s paltry foreword. Two stories feature James’s stalwart detective Adam Dalgliesh. But it is the first two that offer the greater entertainment. They are narrated from the perspective of two silent witnesses. As we are given pieces of each puzzle it becomes clear how a seemingly innocent bystander can become a criminal accomplice. A Very Commonplace Murder begins as a beautifully controlled story of a voyeur who watches two secret lovers from his office spyhole. When one of them is killed, the peeping Tom looks on as the wrong man is found guilty of the murder. It is a shame about the twist, which in the elegant title story does what twists should: give new life to old death.