Michael Tolkien

The Tightrope Wedding   (Smith/Doorstop)

Publ in Prop Magazine, April 2000


        Michael Laskey's detailed domesticity laced with formative childhood memories should be viewed with the comic and painful ambiguity highlighted in a cine-camera version of his parents' wedding, mirrored in the final, title poem where the couple's intersection is fearfully emblematic of their risk: a more arresting sense of human courage and frailty than in the tacked-on shadows and doubts that diffuse the impact of the book’s initial poem. Intervening episodes about cooking, gardening, landmarks in parent-child relations, are mostly more than anecdotal. 'Kitchen sink' subject matter is as cliché-ridden as romantic pastoralism once became, and Laskey challenges us to write with discrimination about what's under our noses. There are also unsentimental celebrations of partnership like The Couple, where the shared imagery of a coastal walk implies what need not be stated. But the marriage poems that frame the book are indicative: a detached standpoint, however intimate the material, gives rise to more durable writing.

         This paradox is indicated in Separations. Rhythmic and formal control suggest a refusal to censure his father's furtive sexual disloyalty and departure yet run counter to the welling up of painful recollection.

                   "Mum was there to collect me at close

                   of play. On my seat someone's stray

                   hairgrip I was quick to bury

                   in a pocket, so we wouldn't worry whose."  


A final apologia for his technique along with other bashful if elegant disclaimers is like a magician saying it was only a trick. At the close of The Knife, a familiar object that comes startlingly alive through forgotten associations, he asks " Who'd have thought it would come to matter/so much to me, this small knife/ you say now you're not sure was yours ?" But Nude is undiluted: a confrontation of the unclothed male body in all its flab and flimsiness, like Lear's realisation that 'Man's life' without necessities is 'as cheap as beast's'.

          The best poems of day-to-day routines surprise us. Passenger is one of Laskey's craftily jocular narratives; but self-mocking anxiety over his son's driving jolts him into contradictory emotions. The Light, mostly monosyllabic in two tight stanzas, turns fury at a teenager's waste of electricity into a painful illumination of lost tenderness as he rolls up the blind. Believing in Heaven is equally 'transformative'. After a journey the demands and surroundings of home are renovated into a consoling symphony; even leaves and the "whish" of a bird "make clear what it can be to hear."



Michael Laskey