Konstandinos Mahoney reviews ‘Sunshine at the end of the world’ by Chris Hardy

 

 

Sunshine at the end of the world, Chris Hardy’s fine fourth collection, has time hanging over the forty nine assembled poems like the sword of Damocles; but rather than casting a shadow, Hardy’s awareness of the impermanence and fragility of things permeates his work and gives it meaning – through acknowledging the finite, he illuminates the pathos of transience; at the end of Hardy’s world is the liberating light of the Greek islands, not the opaque gloom of Hades.

‘Pulse,’ the first poem in the collection begins at the beginning with a newborn baby, /all there is for you is your/immortal, unopened second/.  From there the poems move backwards and forwards through time and memory, Europe and Asia, human and animal, mining the depth and excavating the span of a life well lived and observed. ‘Deadelus’ looks afresh at the myth through the three classic partitions of time; It is good/ to live in the moment, but what if the moment/ is no good?//Then you must live/in the dark/cluttered labyrinth/of your past,/or the empty balcony/high on a mountain/that you call the future/…. /after all that is what Icarus did -/dive off/into his future./ In, ‘The dustmen laugh at last year’s diary,’  the paradox of non-linear time, reminiscent of Eliot’s Four Quartets, is simply but profoundly explored, /Birds sing before dawn/I was dead before I was born.

There is no superfluous ornamentation in these poems, couplets, tercets, short, clipped lines, Doric not Corinthian, rarely spilling over to a second page. Imagery is fresh, original, arresting, never there just for show, always an integral part of what the poem is saying; the title poem, for example, describes a graveyard where the dead are buried, standing up, /cold, mud-clamped sentries/knee deep in the water table/. The second verse describes a burial at sea, with white flowers sprinkled on the surface looking from below like stars – a fearless and beautiful imagining of one’s own final ritual of departure. In ‘On schedule,’ Hardy uses a deserted airport at night as a metaphor of the heavenly gates, a portal to the other side, Saint Peter as checker of souls replaced by a custom’s officer who waves him on to the other side – a memorable and haunting poem for frequent flyers.

The poems, even the very short ones, are often structured around a narrative, a memory, an event, and it is Hardy’s skill that these poems, though brief and sparse, pack a powerful emotional punch; in, ‘Going for a walk.’, a poem of only sixty words, the pain and guilt of not hastening to a mother’s death bed is conveyed with maximum impact.

Hardy is expert at ending a poem, an elusive skill, for example in ‘Auspices’ and ‘Thread’, and the moving, ‘Catch it up,’ where the poet concludes by telling a child that if he ever catches a little bird in his hands, /the frightened heart/beating beneath your fingers/will make you/let it go, an ending as moving as it is beautiful and true, encapsulating the tender humanity that runs through this poignant collection.

Hardy, a philhellene, brings the crystal light and myth of Greece to many of the poems.  Among the Greek poems is ‘Borderline,’ a vivid evocation of a hillside nunnery; as Edward Lear painted striking watercolour scenes of Ottoman Greece, so Hardy conjures Greece in verse, an atmospheric description of an Orthodox nunnery in its mountain setting above the sea. The poem centres on a minor incident – a tourist being hushed by a nun protective of her sisters’ need for silence; but just as the poem seems to be over, the poet glances down at, /the narrow sea far below/where refugees drown, trying to reach the shore/ – a scene reminiscent of Breughel’s, ‘The Fall of Icarus,’ and Auden’s  ekphrastic poem, a tragedy, a drowning happening at a distance without anyone noticing; in Hardy’s poem, imagined survivors vanish into the ‘dark green, scented forest.’

Hardy’s tender and affecting collection feels like an elegy, a beautiful and accepting celebration of what was, what is and what is to be – a poet writing at the peak of his powers, ‘Sunshine at the end of the world,’ is a highly readable collection of humanity, compassion and wisdom.

 

Sunshine at the end of the world by Chris Hardy is published by Indigo Dreams.  Order your copy here: http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/chris-hardy/4593968553

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