Michael Tolkien

As Lords Expected       (Rockingham Press)

(Publ in Ambit 147: 1997)


  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 milk.

 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 like:

             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:

                                 in the process

             of giving a speech of welcome:

             her parted lips and tipped-up tongue

             are forming the consonant 'El';

             as in 'Elysium'- or just plain 'lovely'.



Roy Blackman