Michael Tolkien

How It Turned Out          (The Rialto)

(Publ in Ambit 147: 1997)


 Without consulting recent acclaim, even Sean O'Brien's reputedly incisive preface, I found Redpath good company, unfailingly himself and asking only the same of you. A poet who shows 'how it turned out' by making

                                       ... a case

                 For ways of being we already know,

                 Already love or fear...

Philosophy, moods of landscape, breakfast, or a sitdown pee with a cat nestling on your pyjamas make up 'These extraordinary everydays'. A child's gesture grows into a disturbing fable. He can read volumes into patterns of lace curtains, adopt a stance and shake its validity. Even masquerades hide masks, as in Information about Love:

                                He'll never realise

                 When madam whispers love you, more than half

                 The chances are she's talking to herself

                 And simply trying feelings on for size.


 We're asked to face what we've noticed but daren't articulate, not morbidly, but with acceptance. He omits no absurdity, but reminds us with typical generosity that it's ' a dark world, yes, but brimming'. Even 'Cornered' and 'Story Time', anecdotes about bores, admit his own peccadilloes.   Techniques apart, I hope this qualifies rumours of another Larkin. Try 'Marked Changes', about being in hospital, alongside Larkin’s 'The Building'; 'Lunar' (the moon's questioning say) with the literary and sardonic 'Sad Steps' of Larkin.

 Sometimes Redpath's mastery of 'artifice' and many styles risks the impression of being too subservient to tapestries. There's odd diction: 'could-have-been-otherness', 'insouciant' ( about an idle bricky!), 'uneuphoniked'( a brass band that's packed up). Reminiscences of war and travel are loosely conversational. But I applaud The Rialto and its collaborators for a timely tribute to well-made poetry, 'mainstream' because it's faithfully provincial. A reminder, if you'll forgive Alexander Pope for being apparently 'un-p/c', that:

              'The proper study of Mankind is Man'.



Frank Redpath