DEFYING THE ODDS: Selected Poems
by David Tipton
216pp, 9.99, Sow's Ear Press, 93 The Hollow, Littleover, Derby DE23 3BS
QUARLL by Chris Considine
64pp, 7.95, Peterloo Poets, The Old Chapel, Sand Lane, Calstock, Cornwall PL18 9QX
GIFTS WITH NO RECIPIENT: Selected Poems 1991-2004 by Philip Gardner
80pp, no price given, The St. Thomas Poetry Series, 383 Huron Street, Toronto, Canada, M85 2G5


David Tipton's poetry is nakedly autobiographical. It treads a fine line between personal and private. What secures it for the reader is the honesty and the straightforwardness of the writing, the utter lack of pretension or verbal posturing: it says what it has to say with directness, without fuss. What some may think of as private and should be kept private, in Tipton, is rawly personal, the bare forked animal we all become when stripped of pretensions. Private (and there is poetry published that doesn't always know it's being just that) doesn't want you or won't let you in; personal on the other hand allows a sharing.

Though he was born in Birmingham and has travelled the world, there is a distinct no-nonsense Northernness in the writing. The last thirty of his seventy-two years have been lived in Yorkshire. Readers, as well as for his poetry, will know him for his editing of Redbeck Press.

His writing may also be said to tread a fine line between poetry and prose: there is a different kind of craftsmanship at work from that which one finds in more conventional or traditional writing. Tipton's free-verse rhythms become infectious and, after a while, what Ian McMillan calls 'an achieved voice' takes command and one happily submits, like the Ancient Mariner's wedding guest, to the kind of companionship and narrative that's on offer. I say 'after a while' simply because the first few poems in the book - especially those that deploy the past tense - didn't much grab me. They felt like reportage rather than sharable re-creations of events. In this, I find myself in agreement with Robert Lowell's statement that 'A poem is an event, and not the record of an event.' But I am talking of three or four pages out of over two hundred.

If, among other things, poetry involves, as Heaney tells us, 'a definition of (the poet's) stance towards life, a definition of his own reality', then Tipton passes with flying colours. We forgive him repetitions, overlappings, because his story, as it emerges through the book, is a gripping one, completely upfront about the warts-and-all exigencies of life in National Service Malaya, teaching in South America, sex, marriage, love affairs, Yorkshire, bringing up children, betting on the gee-gees. This may not be tots of malt whisky to be sipped and savoured knowingly: it is good honest beer enjoyed in interesting company.

Chris Considine can also claim Yorkshire connections. After a career in teaching in Bedford, she now lives in Upper Swaledale. Quarll (the title comes from the story of a seventeenth-century Philip Quarll shipwrecked in 1675, subject of a thirteen-poem sequence with which the collection opens) is Chris Considine's second Peterloo collection in three years. It confirms the achievement of the first, Learning to Look from 2003, in which she, as a painter as well as a poet, engaged principally with learning to look at landscape, which she rendered in close-up detail. This second book is equally engaging and an equally lively read. The poems have a deftness of touch, a strongly visual impact, and employ an active language delighting in, as Tennyson has said,, 'fitting aptest words to things'. There is poignant seriousness and playful humour in poems that take a slantways view of the world and its history and therefore make us see things as if for the first time: Typical of the quality of the writing is a poem in which a cat that lies on the bed 'like a furry ammonite' eventually turns feral:

    He'd slink across the narrow track,
    the dark stripes swaying on his back.
    He took to staying out all day
    And finally stayed away.

    She thinks of him out in the cold,
    his eyes like bale-fires gleaming gold,
    alert for falcon, dog or stoat,
    elusive in his shadow-coat.
          [from 'Little Fluffy Goes Native']

are poems to savour like tots of malt whisky.

Philip Gardner lives in Ottawa and is a scholar, an international authority on the work of E. M. Forster. Though born and educated here, his poems are not known in the U.K. - which is a pity. They afford lots of pleasures.

I must say I am a little puzzled by the title of this
Selected: many of the poems are elegies and dedicated to particular people who have had some impact on Gardner's life. Perhaps this is because elegies are inevitably one-sided conversations, the dead having no way of replying. But there are dedications to living beings too. And presumably the poems are gifts in the broad sense that they are offered to readers. They are not surely meant to travel out into cold inhuman space.

Gardner is an explorer of places and the personal meanings that adhere to them. His work is as English as Larkin's - though Larkin's Englishness is more guarded and sceptical. There is in it a deep-rooted nostalgia of the kind we find in the music of Vaughan Williams and Finzi, in which landscape is spiritualised. It is part of the Liverpudlian soul too - Gardner grew up on Merseyside. Under any Scouser's superficially tough outside there's yearning and sadness. I know: I'm one of them.

It is the dextrous use of traditional verse and rhyme that is the equivalent, in Gardner, of 'tough outside'. All of the poems are carefully, lovingly crafted. They offer a sharp contrast to the free-wheeling Tipton and yet the purpose is similar: to record, hold down in words, celebrate, own up to, regret, pay dues. Like Tipton, Gardner too is a traveller, forging allegiances with a variety of places - in North and South America, Japan, France, but mostly England and mostly Northern England at that.

When I say that the poetry is conservative (small c) I am not using the word in any derogatory sense. What I mean is that while ruefully acknowledging change it seems to quietly, wistfully resist it. This brings Hardy to mind. It may be because (though in this respect it is unlike Hardy) Gardner has kept in touch with the verities religion wants us to cherish.

Gifts with No Recipient we have a diligent artist in verse-making and a deeply meditative poet whose work deserves to be better know this side of the Big Pond.

        Matt Simpson 2006