Surfacing, William Park

[62pp, 5.99, Spike Books, c/o Liver House, 96 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HY]



Spike Books, with its policy of publishing debut collections only, has launched the work, among others, of Glyn Wright and Jean Sprackland. Now here is William Park, with his confidently titled Surfacing, just as likely and ready to go places.


In view of the fact it is as long as fifteen years ago that Park won a Gregory Award, Surfacing signifies a delayed emergence, a final readiness to lay out a stall. In those years Park has accumulated a set of poems that show not only the confidence of a steady individual voice but also work that is technically adroit - words finding their rightful places, line-lengths carefully measured. They remind me (I am not claiming a direct influence) of Eliot in Preludes. I get the same sense of a poet sometimes tenuously holding on to notions of certainty in a world that appears fragmentary and illusory, a similar shifting between levels of consciousness, and awareness of transience and mortality.


I have lifted the title for this review from the epigraph Park places at the start of his book where he quotes Andrey Tarkovsky - considered by many as the most influential Soviet film-maker after Eisenstein - who says 'The image is not a certain meaning'but an entire world reflected as in a drop of water.' A feeling for image is central, the dynamo energising many of Park's poems. For example the poem 'Faith' ends


     You must wait

     through a sinking and flaring


     a vigil of vast shadows

     worrying when the wind


     loosens the mouth

     of the forest green door.


and, again, 'Anniversary' ends with


     A new memory

     spreads for her

     like bright water

     to comfort, and subdue

     as the moon

     peeks through its lingerie

     half-red in the haze

     of celebratory fires.


The way of seeing evinced by these poems owes much to cinema. The poems require us to see the way Conrad intended his readers to when he famously told them 'my task is to make you hear, to make you feel... to make you see, to show a moment of life its vibration, its colour, its form.' This is not to be taken for simple impressionism and by extension blur. Park's camera-eye is tightly focused, even when it makes surprising shifts from 'real' to surreal, from world-out-there realities to worlds that are, as Blake once said 'only imagined'. Park draws on photography, film, mirrors, and uses close-up, long-shot, montage in the effort to make us see. Here he is vividly showing us a beetle - I'll quote the poem entire:


     In his second shell

     he moves with a menace

     half a thumb long

     plastic black.


     Somewhere in his belly

     he breathes, a short life

     without love, simply possessing

     locomotion, place, and purpose.


     Unaware of the heavens,

     he is looked down on

     by the moon's grey ball,

     its edge lit like a yellow fingernail.


     And I pride myself

     with a small power,

     prodding the beetle,

     increasing the pressure.


     He does not look up.

     I am only

     a finger from the darkness

     with no explanations.


This works not only by dextrous use, as it were, of camera angles but it also has something of the quiddity found in Zen and haiku - a leap into sudden realisation of the real nature of something - finding Blake's heaven in a grain of sand, Tarkovsky's 'entire world reflected in a drop of water'.


Surfacing is a striking and rewarding debut by an ambitious writer. The wait has been worthwhile. Having been given an auspicious start by Spike Books, it is to be hoped that some other publisher will quickly snap him up.



              Matt Simpson 2005