Alan Price reviews ‘The Space Between Us’ by Neil Elder

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The poetry of Neil Elder has a compelling domestic surface. By surface I don’t mean superficial. By domestic I don’t mean limited. What he makes of family incidents, whether joyfully tender or horribly upsetting is very distinctive. It’s very difficult to write about being a father in a family, caught at home, on holiday or observing your children. Such subject matter can threaten sentimentality. But Elder is too shrewd and witty a poet to invite that criticism. Just take an apparently simple and direct poem like “Art Appreciation.”

 

Somebody’s rule of inversion;

appreciation is proportional

to what is left.

Crookedly the vase leans in all its orange splendour.

I see you shake your head in disbelief

repeating Fabulous with wonder.

 

The epiphany lies in the repeat of the word Fabulous. It begins with the term as

a mother’s “amazement that sticks in the mind.” Her reaction to the vase is observed

as a “disproportionate delight” that “might be the start of a decline.” Elder makes you hear the mother’s voice. It’s distinct, clear, tense with possible judgement, and then

loving approval. Fabulous was a very 1960/70’s word. Its usage evokes a parent of that generation and her values.

 

There are many examples of a quiet tenderness in The Space Between Us. A further mother poem, “What we Could Not Give” has the poignant lines,

 

It wasn’t possible to find a wall

Large enough to mount a mirror that could

Reflect the love that you have shown.

 

Elder’s insights and remembrances are often shot through with a very funny observation of things. There’s a skillful balance between the absurd and the deadly serious that draws you comfortably into his world and then shocks. “Not One of Us” is ostensibly a poem about how a gorilla is lovingly accepted into the family domain until they discover it has a flaw.

 

Then one day I opened the front door

To find ten billion tiny flies

had hatched from underneath Loretta’s ear;

Fur rippling and the air a shivering cloud of nightmare.

 

And for this diseased ear, the gorilla is destroyed.

 

…we struck a match and cursed

her back where she belonged.

 

A family’s abandonment of a wild beast makes for a bigger statement about intolerance, normality and evolution

 

we’d think of Attenborough and smile

 

Occasionally the compassion of Neil Elder can prove to be a shortcoming. He can admirably engage us in the human scene, with all its frailties, yet technically his language sometimes fails him. Elder strives to say something profound but fails to arrive at a philosophical conclusion. It wasn’t because I wanted some rhetorical summing up but a deeper searching. Poems like “Your Poem” and “Hopeful” are slight truisms. However there is so much honest, direct, and thoughtfulness in The Space Between Us which indicates that Elder will get better in the books to come.

 

Back to the collection I hold in my hands. I have nothing but praise for “Not One Of Us” and such companion dark poems as “Testimony”, the sharply written “Horse Drawn” and the semi-grotesque “Being Dinner.”

 

“Being Dinner” reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession with the eating of food

(Especially his late great film Frenzy). And the collection also has a poem about the shower scene in Psycho coupled with Scorcese’s Raging Bull. Yet “Being Dinner” is for me the more effective Hitchcockian / Elder experience. It opens surprisingly, and madly, from the food’s point of view!

 

Flat on the kitchen counter;

to your left, each night,

a figure in chef’s whites sharpening a knife.

You suspected this ending.

 

I loved these gleefully black comic lines.

 

Perhaps the poem in the collection that moved me most was the very direct, “What We Could Not Give You.” Yet The Space Between Us has love, other than mother-love, to give us. These are caring, insightful and generous poems. And any reader of this book will return to its power.

 

 

Order your copy of The Space Between Us by Neil Elder from Cinnamon press here

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James Roderick Burns reviews ‘The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here’ by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

 

 

‘The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here’ begins with a useful scene-setting in prose, and a mystery – perhaps two.  Thomas Ovans, the poet’s grandfather, was born in County Leitrim, moved to Middlesbrough to work in the shipyards and married a local woman, went to sea as a ship’s engineer (becoming friendly with Nellie Melba on board) then died when his ship struck a mine in the Indian Ocean.  With a few additional facts – he was from the same area as one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, for instance – and an overview of the poet’s year-long genealogical research, we embark on a remarkable act of imaginative recreation, and then encounter the second mystery: unnumbered pages.  An arc, yes – the death register, reports of the sinking, a butcher’s-daughter bride; all told, a life lived from back to front, with postscript poems charting its ripples into the poet’s own.  But none of the trusty way-markers of an ordinary poetic journey.

For, over the span of nineteen poems, Bartholomew-Biggs unearths an extraordinary life.  In the near-absence of documents, it is one which revels in concrete detail – from the ‘Marine Death Register’, its “old sweats … grimly fending off the final quayside”, to “mines/among the slobbering of waves/whose thick wet lips concealed spiked tongues” (‘Official Recognition 1919’), his grandfather – sunk – “a dozen lung-tight ladders from good air” (‘Died from Scalds’) to his first emergence from the country, “city streets … loom[ing] up at him like rocks” (‘Baptism Record’).

Nor are these markers of departure, relationship or destination simply slipped in as free-floating colour, bulking up a thin historical record; each serves in its own way as a fixed point on the trail, looking forwards and back, illuminating the corners of a life lost to history.  That early quayside, for instance, is picked up again as a dog marooned by the shipwreck, “saved and reached Bombay before its master./It was at the quay to greet him” (‘Press Reports’).  Here the physical separation of land and water serves as a bright counterpoint to its earlier, stark image of the border between life and death.  Similarly, Bartholomew-Biggs’ figuring of family history as a sealed bottle, the poet poised with “a corkscrew in my fist” – “Will the bottle/hold fine wine or just a scribbled message?” (‘Birthright’) – reoccurs at the end of the book, but deliberately fails to answer its own question, eschewing easy readings:

 

Our bottled epitaphs will splash

and bob away from where we vanished

then wash unsmashed on distant shingle

to disappoint beachcombing vagrants

who always find

our trampled lives are quite undrinkable.

 

(‘Protest Song’)

 

Yet the poet is perhaps too harsh with this conclusion.  Salty, sweet, harsh or heart-warming, they are always drinkable, always worth finding at the end of a trail of footprints in the sand.  At the book’s end, too, we understand the lack of pagination.  In capturing the precise marks of a life well-lived, Bartholomew-Biggs charts his grandfather’s progress far better than any sequence of numbers.  We remember the spiky mines, the burning air and superheated steam, but also “what small celebrity/accompanies the return/of the man who wasn’t ever here”.

 

 

James Roderick Burns regularly reviews for London Grip, and has just published his third short-form collection, ‘The Worksongs of the Worms’.  He is the editor of ‘A Gathering Darkness: Thirteen Classic English Ghost Stories’ (2016)

 

You can order your copy of The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here’ by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, here: www.wayleavepress.co.uk

 

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Rosie Jackson reviews ‘In Her Shambles’ by Elizabeth Parker

 

This is a book of translucencies. Nothing is over-solid or overstated, nothing prosaic, yet the poems have an energy and exactness that capture relationships, places, people with unusually fine detail. Take the opening poem, ‘Crockery’.  The ‘you’ it’s addressed to, never named, could be a lover, friend, anyone, but instead of being described directly, they are seen aslant, summoned by their reflections in chrome and crockery, their lip marks on a glass.

‘The wine glass has peeled a crescent from your mouth
each crease ridging the grease. I can’t look at you.’

This sets the tone for the whole of this debut collection: unexpected, lucent, precise, sharp, inventive, daring, controlled, but never heavy handed. The touch is so deft you almost think it happens by accident, then you realize how carefully crafted the poems are, and it comes as no surprise to discover Parker has a first class degree in literature and creative writing from Warwick University and an MA in mythology from Bristol. Her learning comes through in literary allusions: Titus Andronicus, Thomas Chatterton, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but they are woven with skill, the learning never intrudes.

From Titus Andronicus, for example, Parker takes the story of Lavinia, raped then mutilated by having her tongue cut out and hands amputated so she can’t utter or write the names of her attackers. But in Parker’s beautiful reworking, in ‘Following Lavinia,’ ‘Lavinia Writes’ – and perhaps implicitly in the last poem in the collection ‘Writing him Out’ – these outrages are dealt with by a mute resistance which will not give up, the language lyrical and far-reaching.

‘They took her tongue, her hands
so she tried to write with driftwood, sand.

The sea was too strong
her words little caves water curled up in
blunting their edges.

She tried to speak again
carved deeper.’ (from ‘Following Lavinia’).

The feminism here is implicit, understated, finding a louder voice in ‘Lavinia Writes’, where the whole story becomes a parable of the silenced abused woman trying to find a language.

Other characters include a piper in Edinburgh playing Kavanagh’s On Raglan road, a piano tuner, various relatives and friends treated as water in the lyrical ‘Rivers’, but most of the figures in these poems are unnamed. ‘Woolworths’ evokes a woman through personal memories, caught in strong images, but we never know who she is. There’s a female stranger on a train in ‘10.30 To Severn Beach’.  Another unnamed woman makes a white vase that seems to speak of her attempt to create and keep something beautiful, pure, inviolate. Again, images capture delicately thin yet telling slices of life. But identities, plots live under the surface. Parker never makes the mistake of milking things for meaning. She doesn’t labour points, doesn’t draw out morals, knows when to stop, when to leave the phase or the poem to stand for itself. All is oblique, hinted at, told slant.

Nor is there any one poetic form, nothing is allowed to solidify into a predictable form or shape. Instead there’s a dextrous mix of mostly 2, 3 and 4 line verses, with minimal punctuation, the text unassuming but contemporary on the page.

In the simply named ‘Lizzie’, Parker splices together the process of deleting and editing word files with Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhuming his late wife Elizabeth Siddal’s grave in Highgate so he could publish the poetry he had buried with her. Parker has researched this in detail, but refrains from writing a predictable narrative of re-enactment, instead breaking up the story with contemporary touches to create a reflection on the process of textual deletion and retrieval.

Biography isn’t always relevant, but the fact of Parker growing up in her parents’ garden centre in the Forest of Dean is surely an influence on the way she writes with such wonderful detail about the green world. There are plants, sunlight and water, a love of nature that is earthed as well as transcendent, an intuitive connection to roots, bulbs, soil, magnolia, spades, fern fronds, what lives on the surface and what lies beneath, all that is burgeoning, blossoming, seeding, lying in wait. Here too, Parker knows how to see what is out of the frame, beyond our usual way of seeing.

I should add that the book is also beautifully produced, as we have come to expect from Seren. The front cover collage by Maria Rivans, showing the head of Audrey Hepburn sprouting a surreal fascinator of birds, boats, moths, flowers, ferns, zebras, prams, women, is exquisite and utterly apt.

 

Rosie Jackson lives in Frome, Somerset, teaches creative writing and is widely published. Her collection The Light Box (Cultured Llama) and her memoir The Glass Mother (Unthank) came out in 2016. In 2017 she won the Stanley Spencer Poetry competition. www.rosiejackson.org.uk     

 

Order your copy of  In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker from the Seren Press website:www.serenbooks.com

 

 

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Christine Whittemore reviews ‘Ghosting For Beginners’ by Anna Saunders

 

 

 

Ghosting for Beginners’ amusing title poem plays on the idea of social-media “ghosting,” the act of going absent online after the end of a relationship, but there are many ghosts and hauntings in Anna Saunders’ fifth collection.

The poet’s delicate touch evokes the gauzy blur” of other-worldly encounters. A jealous lover returns shroud-bound from his suicide, and hovers over his beloved and her new paramour: All his sins are exfoliated now, his new skin/light as bible paper, lucent as rain.

These poems show not only how ghosts touch us, but also how that ectoplasmic life might feel; they lead us across the shifting boundaries between the seen and the unseen.

Ghosts are not all human, limbed and familiar;” there are other essences too. And who will speak of the ghost of the rain?”  Or of “the spirit of the air—the grassy fragrance/ plaintive amid the pollution…?

Hinted presences are almost tangible in this ravishing yet precise language.

There is variety of subject, tone, and approach, from humour to poignancy. Throughout, there’s loss, and sorrow; a lost father’s voice somehow becomes that of a bird, in the urgent song of a creature/asserting its claim on a darkening earth.”

In this poem and others, that claim of the living contrasts with the ghostliness in rich physicality: the body’s incense, smouldering.” For “Aren’t we all wild garlic/rooted into the dark woods/offering ourselves to the gods,/cowering from rough paws,/blazing our pure stars?

Whilst the rough paws buffet us, these poems delight and sustain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Whittemore is the author of Inscription, a novel. (Sowilo Press, 2015) and  Sudden Arabesquepoems(Oversteps Books, 2017)

 

 

You can order your copy of Ghosting For Beginners by Anna Saunders (Indigo Dreams, 2018) here: www.indigodreams.co.uk

 

 

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Matthew Tett reviews ‘More than you were’ by Christina Thatcher

 

 

 

 
Losing a parent is hard and when it happens, it’s tough. It brings a glut of unexpected emotions and without a doubt, More than you were, Christina Thatcher’s debut poetry collection, deals with the death of her father in a beautiful, heartfelt way.

Thatcher, an American Ph.D student at Cardiff University, has written More than you were as a response to her father David’s death, in 2013, from a drugs overdose. Not knowing the deceased does not make the collection any less impactful. In fact, the poems deal with Thatcher’s grief in a multitude of ways from constructing her father’s obituary through to cleaning out his apartment.

In the opening poem, ‘First Drafts’, Thatcher explores the process of writing a suitably respectful piece for her father – and how, after she’d ‘read hundreds of them…’ she didn’t want her father ‘to look bad next to the other obituaries’. Further in the past is ‘Day One’ – and the room being ‘like molasses’ is poignant: time takes on a new meaning. It’s not something that can be imagined, or easily understood.

Interspersed throughout are ten ‘lessons’ – learning points, often focusing on what Thatcher learnt from her father, or has realised since he died. In ‘Lesson #3’, David Thatcher told his daughter that ‘some things were never mean to be loved.’ In ‘Lesson #5’, he kills eels, en masse, and explains this as a kind gesture. But learning is not just restricted to the ‘lessons’. In ‘There’, Thatcher realises how much her father was to her – ‘the everything in that room’. The disconnect of the nouns ‘expert, alchemist, front man composing lasagna’ show how much he meant to her – and how much fathers mean to many of us. In ‘Anticipation’, the focus is less positive – waiting for something that never comes. Thatcher was desperate for ‘the taste of cinnamon’ chewing gum but such desire was futile. It is fascinating how the adult memory can hang on to glimpses into the yesteryear of childhood. If only all responsible adults followed through with their promises.

Thatcher’s poems are short, often one-stanza affairs, each one conveying strong emotions that only the bereaved can ever fully understand. ‘Shaking hands at a funeral’ is reminiscent of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Mid-Term Break’ – the main difference being Thatcher writes about death’s impact on an adult, whereas Heaney wrote as a child. But the fall out (‘death would strip me, leave me barren, like winter’) is the same. The tragedy of getting older, with funeral attendance being the norm, is clear in ‘Multiples’. In ‘Sharing’, a warmer sense is felt – where Thatcher debates where to scatter her father’s ashes, listing beautiful potential locations in her adopted Wales.

What really rings true in this collection is the contrast between what was and what could have been. In ‘Out’, there is a strong element of wondering – with reference to ‘bottles of Bud’. One can’t help feeling empty with the thought of wasted opportunities. But this doesn’t stop Thatcher reminiscing – particularly when it is the anniversary of her father’s birthday in ‘When you sneak up on me’. The longevity of grief’s impact is evident here, as it is in ‘Echo’ with its sense of finality – with ‘Everything being paid up.’ After a loved one dies, there is a lot to organise, alongside the grieving and emotions. Even though such jobs can be unwanted and tempting to ignore, their completion leaves a sense of everything being done.

Towards the end of the collection, Thatcher reflects on the present day. In ‘On learning to help myself’, she uses the analogy of ‘luck’ – and that she doesn’t have to rely on this in order to have a good life. Finality is confronted in ‘Your estate has closed’ – and in ‘Resilience’, accepting the truth (and internalising the loss) is tackled. The concluding poem, ‘Finding You’, sees Thatcher returning to one of her father’s old haunts and the impact a guitar has on her. It is a reminder to us all that the small things in life can cause the strongest emotions.

Having recently lost my own father, albeit in very different circumstances, More than you were hit home. The collection should be read as a whole, such are the effects of grief. Thatcher candidly writes about the myriad ways that a parent’s death can affect a child – and no matter the situation, her writing is beautifully executed and deserves to be absorbed slowly, with consideration and a sense of peace.

 

 

Matthew Tett is a freelance writer and teacher based in the south-west of England. He is Reviews Editor for NAWE’s Writing in Education and writes for various publications, including the Cardiff Review.

 

You can buy your copy of More than you were by Christina Thatcher here: https://www.parthianbooks.com/products/more-than-you-were

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Jonathan Edwards reviews ‘Better Houses’ by Susie Wild

 

Susie Wild’s Better Houses announces a new, highly distinctive and exciting poetic voice. The subjects of this collection – a boyfriend mowing the lawn, an ill pet, a pub crawl – are universal, and give the poems an immediate accessibility. The author’s balance between opening the door for the reader, and then hitting them with the poem’s highly original approach to language and a slightly slant way of looking at the world, make these poems highly entertaining and rewarding.

One thing I was immediately struck by was the collection’s management of shorter poems. ‘The Elephant Fayre’ tells the story of someone deciding to run away at the age of six. The great title, and the poem’s opening, introduce the strong idea with admirable economy: ‘You were in a hurry to leave/home. The summer of ’85, and you were/six.’ From here, we move into a distinctive linguistic approach, which captures childhood perfectly: ‘you raced/flutterbies. Certain you belonged/at this festival of gadabouts…’ Most importantly, the poem has a great ending which really makes it stand up and live: after the runaway child has ‘found/a new family – a gypsy/caravan to call/your own,’ we have this marvellous last sentence: ‘They paid you/in ice cream, then – the traitors –/they gave you back.’

This great formula, of accessible ideas, distinctive language and a telling ending, enlivens a number of poems across the collection. ‘Thirst’ opens with a highly dramatic sentence:

 

My head is under

the surface,

my grandfather’s hand

 

holding it down for 1, 2, 3,

a punishment for something,

in the flooding shallows

 

of the stream.

 

From here we move into some lovely language – the sea ‘Spits me out grainy,/briny-eyed, starfish-limbed’ – before a jump forwards in time gives us this stunning ending: ‘Now I sleep beside a tumbler,/liquid lapping the brim.’

 

‘Delivery,’ similarly, begins with an everyday event, and these reflections on fertility:

 

When she collects,

spilling news

of her purchase –

 

a changing mat –

I realise she’s pregnant. Not

fat, our Kiwi at no. 23.

 

The opposite of what

people say about me, blooming

with my desk job diet.

 

The skilful shift in approach in the final sentence offers us a wonderfully evocative image, opening the poem out, and giving it a lingering power which has us coming back to it:

 

See the baby-grows

in rank: empty soldiers

on the washing line out back.

 

These exemplary shorter poems are complemented by the more sustained pieces in this artfully-sequenced collection. I was particularly taken by ‘Prep,’ a moving description of experiences at boarding school. Alongside a number of poems, including ‘The Lash Museum,’ the poem showcases the poet’s wonderfully clear eye for childhood memories. The emotive power of ‘Prep’ is maximised by its unusual focus. The poem’s first section concentrates on the trunk the speaker used to carry possessions back and forth to school, while the second section focuses on food. The poem is a sort of memoir-by-luggage-and-food then, and this unusual choice of focus really disciplines material which could be sentimental into something which is really powerful. The poem’s second section has some excellently-observed memories of childhood: ‘the thrill of Saturday movies in the boy’s halls, the gift/of changing the gears on the minibus drive/back.’ The first section is perhaps even stronger, giving that sense of lugging so much – clothes, relationships, anxiety – back and forth from home to school, which is so much a part of that experience. I loved this description of the trunk: ‘Wine-coloured, brass-tacked,/back then the trunk puff-chested a term’s worth of bedded/un-belonging.’ That verb ‘puff-chested,’ to describe the crammed trunk, but also the pride of the child heading off to school, is a delight.

‘The Art of War,’ a similarly sustained piece, draws on the famous Chinese military treatise to explore the realities of a contemporary relationship. The role of technology in love these days combines with the military vocabulary to strong effect: ‘I…wait for the artillery fire//of texts.’ The poem works through the anxieties of modern relationships – a borrowed laptop, speculation over engagement rings – towards this highly effective final sentence: ‘Deleting my browser history, I gather/the weapon of myself.’

Arguably even more intriguing are the two extracts we are given from a longer sequence, ‘Sex Change Disco.’ The first fragment is full of interesting and evocative lines: ‘a bashful Jack-the-lad smirk turns Jane,’ ‘I’m swan, laying belly to riverbed,/to wet stone, wriggling//in the hour between the dog and the wolf.’ The second extract opens with these descriptions and invitation:
All the creatures of the dark visit to take a look

at her. She is illuminated – a city species – in a glowing

 

glass box. See her dance. See her flap

 

about.

 

This fragment works towards another powerful and troubling ending:

 

They ask ‘boy or girl?’

We might have to dissect her to tell.

 

The notes at the back of the book tell us that these exciting fragments are part of a longer sequence, a collaboration with an artist, and one thing I wondered was whether a website link could be provided to allow the reader to see the whole sequence. In this sense, ‘Sex Change Disco’ is representative of Better Houses as a whole, as, like all the best collections, it leaves the reader wanting more. The marriage of clarity and accessibility with the highly distinctive voice which is evident in these poems, excitingly and genuinely all this author’s own, make this an accomplished and auspicious debut, and make this poet’s future work something to greatly look forward to.

 

Order your copy of Better Houses by Susie Wild here: https://www.parthianbooks.com/products/better-houses

 

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John Mee reviews ‘Long Pass’ by Joey Connolly

 

 

The author of this cerebral and assured debut is the joint editor of a magazine called Kaffeeklatsch. Its manifesto suggests (in the midst of a post-modern welter of interlocking footnotes) that the reader of poetry ‘must be like the cat, flirt with everything’. Long Pass offers a wide variety of attractions up to which the reader may sidle and against which to rub his or her back.

One of the themes of the book is poetry itself and its making, the mutability of the words with which ‘[t]he darkness is swarming’ (‘The Draft’). Connolly is interested in ‘[t]he orthodontic meddling of language/ with the world, its snaggling malocclusions’: ‘[Untititled]’ (sic). At times, his language mimics the sound of nature, as in ‘Liguria’, which captures ‘the plump primary note/ of a woodpigeon swelling rhythmically into the air’:

 

‘ the glue goes. We pool so, it

schools us. The rules: yes, they fooled you, accruing …’

Demonstrating the scale of its ambition, the collection includes ‘reworkings’ of poems in six European languages. Connolly presents two new versions of each poem (except in the case of Rozhdestvensky’s ‘History’). In each case, the second version departs from the original to a much greater extent than the first. In his second version of Christine de Pizan’s ‘Third Ballad’, which tells the story of the drowned lovers Hero and Leander, the poet addresses de Pizan across the centuries:
‘Listen, Frenchy: the gap between our tongues

is just the blackest water, nothingy and unbreathable’.
The business of reworking is fraught since ‘ideas have words/ and words ideas and they get/ everywhere, sand in sandwiches/ at the beach’: ‘An Ocean,’.

And if poetry and translation weren’t difficult enough, there are also the poet’s ‘financial/ and romantic perplexities’ (‘Why?’), ‘a stack/ of unread books, the constant dull subpoena of alcohol/ and tobacco’ (‘Average Temperature at Surface Level’). An unconsummated love affair is recounted in ‘A Brief Glosa’, having been foreshadowed in earlier poems:
‘Twenty-four days, really, all told,

straggling Manchester’s dive-bars until five for the pretext of drink

between the kitsch and neons as if there was no agony

keeping our bodies apart.’

 

The poet stands at the edge of a city bridge in ‘I am Positioned’:

 

‘                 thinking of the woman who has asked

for us to keep apart, for two months, while she

 

works things out: the woman I love. Although

I didn’t, I suppose, make that clear.’

 

A defining feature of the collection is its willingness to engage with philosophical concepts. For example, ‘to the materialist’, Connolly says, ‘if you can’t ride two horses at once/ you shouldn’t be in the circus’: ‘Of Some Substance, Once’. The book’s centrepiece is ‘Average Temperature at Surface Level’, an extended meditation on information and human attention, and the relationship between seeing, describing and remembering. The ‘tone veers uncontrollably’ from abstraction – ‘object/ bleeds into type, the starvation-ration of quiddity’ – to the helpfully concrete: ‘new, still-wet permanent marker is the best plan/ for erasing old permanent marker’.

Connolly’s work places more demands on the reader than straightforward lyric poetry – e.g. I found myself looking up words such as ‘doxological’, ‘dialetheic’ and ‘ideolected’. Any poetry that is intelligent is in danger of being perceived as overly clever but, for me, Long Pass generally avoided this trap. Admittedly, the line may be crossed in ‘Poem in Which Go I’: ‘There but for the goes of going walks our lord. There/ but for the gauze of saying so goes all’. Another risky moment comes in ‘Fantasy of Manners’, where the poet flagellates himself in Latin for being too intellectual, albeit with deflating mentions of ‘bollocks’ and ‘shite’.

The title of the collection can be linked to the reference, also in ‘Fantasy of Manners’, to the poet’s ‘own hailmary explanatory’ – a ‘Hail Mary’ is a long pass in American football which is unlikely to find a receiver. The pessimism implicit in the title of Long Pass is belied by the excellence of the work it contains. The collection is a substantial achievement, which repays repeated reading. Ultimately, as reflected in his concluding poem, ‘Last Letter from the Frontier’, Connolly’s tenacity wins a strange victory over despair:

 

‘I know that we have years – perhaps forever – to wait

until the drawling missionaries and the thrill and the skin drums

of pirates. And until then, I am bricking myself in.’

 

 

 

 

 

John Mee is a poet and academic from Cork in Ireland. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2015 and the Fool for Poetry International Chapbook Competition in 2016. His chapbook, From the Extinct, is published by Southword Editions. www.johnmeepoetry.com https://www.munsterlit.ie/Bookstore Other Titles.html Twitter: @JohnMeeLaw

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