This book is damned good. I mention that from the outset because, when poets review each other’s work, their opinions can be so richly embroidered with adjectives like “elegiac”, “threnodic” and “plangent” that the poor reader is left guessing whether to part with his or her fiver.
Reader: guess no more and chisel open that wallet or purse..
Philip is an engaging and avuncular presence at the mike and this twinkly-eyed beardiness comes through the page too. I first met him at a slam about seven years ago and his poem “One” made an instant impact and lodged in the memory so it’s good to see it now committed to print. Likewise, the sure-footed competition-winner “The Knave’s Grave.”
There’s mastery of many forms here. Largely, the verse is freer than skylark song but Philip is not afraid to don the constraints of form when the subject matter calls for it. “Biking Mad” is a brilliant example of a pantoum – a very techie Malayan form with tactical bursts of repetition. You’ll also find homage paid to the villanelle, the rondel, the terza rima and, queen of forms, the peerless sonnet. At the other end of the scale, there’s the found poem, where the writer plucks a phrase from the everyday world and, in the act of extraction, renders it holy.
Spirit of Boscastle (a plaque on a riverside shop-front)
destroyed by floods 16th August 2004
rebuilt 16th August 2004.
Philip, to his immense credit, doesn’t run scared from sentiment. He’s confident diving into the emotion of dropping his son off at University. He’s happy tipping a hat to relations dying, dead, maddening and mad. He’s not afraid of the bucolic, the romantic, the personal paean. But all of this is dowsed with crisp vinaigrette rather than cloying carbonara.
Grumbles? This is where we are reduced to minutiae. I’d dearly like to know, for example, what “velitating” means – is it something Mr Spooner does while walking on air? And, although the book is beautifully produced, the strength of the binding doesn’t bode well as an heirloom. This material has backbone – and deserves a spine to suit.
Norman Hadley is a poet from Garstang who also dabbles in prose. He has completed three and a half poetry collections, one of them being both diminutive and collaborative. The most recent, full-sized collection is “A Whoop Above the Dust”, September 2010. When things refuse to rhyme, he writes prose – usually short, but including a couple of novel-length stories, The Lucky Krab and The Last Munro – the latter for children. He is not yet quite reconciled to the fact that the quickest way to the truth is to make stuff up. But he’s slowly getting there. In his day job, he designs heavy-duty diesel engines for ships and trains. The engines are considerably larger than the poems.