This is a first full collection but it's the work of a polymath whose interests
are tempered by open-minded resistance to theory and dogma and assimilated in well-tried
modes. Blackman's as opposed to Bunyan’s Progress bravely carries the burden of Self,
a 'true and faithful narrative' of formative traumas of abandonment, parental and
marital love and loss, battlings with indefinable inadequacy, lost opportunities
and glimpses of wholeness.
The chronology is laced with poems that imply ironic perspectives, or affirm 'the
nature of things' from other kinds of dereliction, like a boy drowned by his mother,
the miseries of an expiring cat, victims of political injustice, not to forget moments
of comedy: 'Traumerei' about equally perplexing dreams of missing and catching buses;
' Of Infinite Regret', a touching jibe at himself for refusing an offer of breast
For some the confessional, documentary writing about childhood and parents may
feel too prosaically extensive in exposition, just the sum total of the events or
objects depicted. Bluntly covering the facts can verge on mannerism in recollections
We had him home a few times, for the day.
Getting him to the lav, taking his trousers down,
helping to wipe him off, wasn't child's play..
So, too, with descriptions of domestic work and landscapes. Suggestion gives way
to comprehensive analysis which silts up with turgid diction. There are also dubious
attempts to cross-fertilise areas of experience: an opera visit and his mother's
hardships, landscape with failed marriage.
Blackman's best work is at once specific and quirky, tough and tender. Sample his
account of shooting a White-eye on a Seychelles expedition, and 'Teach me to live...'
about his daughter photographed: