Billed as a book about divisive tensions in many eras and places, this collection
is primarily solipsistic in its concern with diffidence over relating to those who
should be close or others severed by time, place or social circumstances. But the
'triptych' scheme of the poems, with its range of modes, even a Buddhist lyric on
the unquiet soul's need for honour, suggests scope and vision. 'Borders' explores
historical and geographical barriers, 'Amor Diving' those between the living child
and deceased parents, expanding the border metaphor. 'Difficult Times' attempts to
come to terms with today's confusing world. There's apt use of dramatic monologue
in 'Borders' where the persona struggles to probe ancestral experience with hard-won
imaginative leaps rooted in tangible objects and images that unify and intensify,
as in Sealing and First Lessons, both about losing touch with an elemental world.
‘Gruoch’, too, gives voice to Macbeth's believably passionate wife. In other quasi-legendary
recreations the 'I' (whether a statue, Lot's daughter, or Pandora) can lapse into
a didactic poet/observer.
Many other poems about contemporary issues or personal reminiscences draw various
kinds of attention to their contrivances, or sacrifice the eloquence of hiatus to
'rounding off', or another dab of domestic detail. Raiding the Borders falls flat
when it moves awkwardly from a dynamic picture of reivers to apply it to close relationships.
In Somewhere Else,
I staunch the sense of a severed self
violates the hazy enactment of how little we can see on the telephone. Difficult
Times suggests well how dull lives desensitise us but we could have been left to
In a minute
someone anywhere might be blown to pieces:
it's all either cowardice or courage.
Yet there's a memorably tough inevitability in The Boatman's Dream about a deserted
fisherman's daughter begging for mackerel:
..........she sits to pack them
slithering into her wide, blue knickers.
Some are gasping when she starts to run
home, past men watching another tide turn.
I felt oppressed by the weight of time and the hunger for news in Gulf; and July
is a skilfully constructed narrative that links bereavement, a cliff top murder and
a mother's qualities, and its understated reflections feel integral.
Achievements that tempt me to wonder if a too cerebral approach may be another border/barrier
the poet has yet to deal with.