Till today I've picked it up to take home, but wondering why, set it back under the
hedge, and kept the name. It's where a ewe had poked through square mesh after thorn
shoots, pulled back, and stuck fast on her winter ruff.
Muzzle's green and flaked, nape's millstone, brain box and eye holes good as new.
On a garage shelf it'll do for Mortality, though not too much. Or just for those
teeth, still perfect for clipping close. Like the sheep I carry them past, who have
the nerve to go on shaving March to its roots.
Tolkien's somewhat Jacobean evocation is appealing in its pared-down style and its
starkness...also 'Patchwork' is a butterfly poem that unpretentiously gives allusive
depth, marrying 'embroidered blaze...inner fire' and 'a shawl' connectedly, beautifully.
'Steps' by contrast, propels the reader headlong onto London's Picadilly line and
gives Tolkien the chance to demonstrate how the overwhelming experience of the City
with its riot of sense impressions can be caught in seven selective quatrains. Elsewhere
in 'Techniques' the poet also makes very good use of subtle and cross-cultural rhymes:
'Blaenau' and 'fly' or alliterative and assonantal effects that used properly, can
bring British poetry alive as at the start of this same poem:
Caravanning at Ael-y-Bryn, the brow of the hill, I rock to the wind
'Bedtime Story' and 'Remote Baroque' are other examples of Tolkien's tightly crafted
and word-sparkling style...
(Chris J.P. Smith: Acumen 49 (May 2004))
...Though the words may be everyday even commonplace, this is dense, grown-up, meaty
poetry that expects the reader to think as well as feel, to be prepared to read and
re-read. The first section, Out of Eden, deals in relationships, mostly not very
happy ones; the small subtle currencies of love, the accidental nature of it all,
need to please, reluctance to offend, dread of being called to account when you can't
afford it. (Tightrope Triptych)
The lover is no heroic figure, though behind the 'leathery forehead and strands/of
grey stuck round a knitted hat' he 'longs to please and be pleased.' (Out of Eden);
nor, though strangers see his wisdom, is he sure of anything but mockery at home,
where he's their 'in-house crackpot, airing outmoded views.' (Home Synagogue) But
none of this is maudlin, just exact: it's the combination of love and failure and
hope and absurdity that makes these poems work so well. She 'has more than enough
to do'; they've both reached the age when 'nights begin to remind us of our joints'.
But that's not all they are about. ....Half Light, the second section, takes us into
a different world, where things are seen by a gentler illumination. Not that this
conceals what's there: Rites of Passage is a pretty merciless glance at (among other
things) tourist behaviour on holiday:
Droves of them fly out to discover less and less about more and more. Scheduled to
they'll never be able to hold up their heads if they miss what others
flock so far to see.
Life after Siddepicts a genuinely no-nonsense successful relationship between a
farming couple. He 'kept a roof over their heads and a wife/to see to the rest...'
And they did throw a set of dinner-service plates at each other, and she'd had '....thoughts
about/his heart and what the place might fetch...' But she's furiously sad when he
He died in the fields fixing his pre-war Ferguson. And when the vicar called to do
his bit she asked him: 'Why no resurrection for a man who'd gone unprepared, on Easter
morning too ? ' Not that she hadn't had thoughts about his heart, or what the place
The inspector at the enquiry soft-soaped her with Anything he could
do. 'Hurl a brick at the East Window just where Magdalen's so damned sure the gardener's
Christ,' she said. 'Or turn a blind eye if I do.' Well, he knew how she felt but
he really wouldn't recommend it.
There's plenty of comedy in Tolkien: that it's wry, quiet, very low-key makes it
the more successful. The letter poem Dear Muriel is both terrible and funny:
It's as if I've been trying not to scream, and it's still dark. The kind of dream
you think you're making up but don't want to.
Love here has decayed into a parody of itself:
On dry days our things hang out together; I'm pecked goodbye; and though it seems
a bother, he likes me on Sundays before breakfast and golf.
Tolkien's is very disciplined, spare writing. Imagery is exact; there'snot a word
or a line that has not earned its keep. All the suppressed violence of the London
Underground ( in all senses ) inSteps - the smell, taste, sound and sights of it
- eddies round the escalators and stairs. There's a short, tightly-rhymed poem for
Edward Thomas's birthday, about spring (March the Third), the syntax, shape, and
the laconic movement echoing ET effortlessly.
Mirrors, the third section, inevitably
includes strange perspectives or distortions- the mysterious, the vanishing, dramatic
roles, the doppelganger etc. It also includes ventures into the territory of dream...(and)
there are winners here: the multiple layers within the twenty lines of One Act Play;
the sharply differing stresses in Holding Tight where a taxi driver who is imagined
'hurling' a wife and child along the motorway is after all just:
One brain signalling to eyes, ears, limbs that trust a contrivance other brains fine-tune
to eat up time and space...
Light, the final section, includes some sombre material, including ‘Leaving Limbo’,
a delicate, tentative view of death. There are dream poems...tacked uncompromisingly
to reality, in the case of ‘Sai Baba's flying Visit’by detail and humour, and in
‘Dream Surgery’ by the merciless accuracy of the presentation of the patients:
Here patients are patient, grey faceless smiles waiting to listen to a great weariness.
Not that words have currency. It's more like chords vibrating low pitch to the flicker
of an eye whose shadows are too pronounced.
Memorable, assured, elegant, searching: Exposures is all this and more...