Michael Tolkien


Anyone Left Standing  (Smith/Doorstop)

Publ in Prop Magazine, April 2000


         Inner city home and street life are McKay's stage and metaphor for a jittery contemporary psyche that feels most believable. We're zoomed into the vagaries, sidetracks and solipsistic coincidences of a defiantly formless vision. Goldfish, typically, protests bombardment by news, views, the truculence of relatives, the fads, nits and eye sties of young dependents, one of whom relieves the lonesome goldfish by standing Raymond Chandler's novel of that name beside its bowl. Listening to this kind of torrent you might want to scream with a protagonist throttled by life in the raw, but on the page particularities and ephemera come at you so thick and fast they are apt to get in each other's way. The prose(-poem ?) recollections of home and parents are more digestible.

         At least sparer pieces intended to reveal what happens to happen do not equate poetry with social documentary, but sordid or off-centre starting points are apt to feel contrived. Two Cappucino and a Tuna Fish Sandwich, both the title and a central parenthetic statement, tells us that " there was blood in my knickers " when she heard of the Guildford Four's retrial.  Significant because " Carole Richardson, inside fourteen years,/ wants children, I, outside in the bare treed winter sun,/ and Japanese tourists by the Winter Museum, want children..." Her companion is pregnant; it's " Only three o'clock and we've cried already." A Winter Day takes fifteen lines to recall why she's

" happy because I'm not dead ", too obviously simulating guilt only to reveal how a health campaigner thrives on trivia and Tai Chi because she's lost her children,

which "gets to" the poet when parents collect theirs from school.

         McKay avoids elbowing us into a 'clarification of life' when insights arise from contrasting inner scepticism with a dialogue or confiding address. Extra Time about a partner's vasectomy balances what she can and can't say by means of wittily consistent imagery. She Happens to Know really feels like a rare pause for thought in a park. A child's curricular knowledge on the phenomenon of light is set beside the mundane business of living and seeing, suddenly transmuted when "the last sun/ floods high-rises somewhere near Killingbeck,/ turning windows and concrete to gold." This dual focus is sharply sardonic in Creating, a bus ride encounter with a decrepit conversational molester who singles her out as one of the godless work-shy. "'Was he bothering you, flower?' asks the driver." We supply the exasperation, the suffocating narrowness.






Kath McKay