Not-There-ness is messing with my head

Man in Black
, Dave Caddy [63pp, 8.99, Penned in the Margins]

Straight off, you know where you are, and it`s not exactly nowhere, rather it`s to be present at an absence, and witness what isn't there, or `stare at gaps`. Confused ? Me too.

It`s hard to bring together the worlds between this: `No-one I know or heard of / wants to live there now`, and this: `Now it spawns gestures of recognition, mild / complaint, the bark of transience`, taken from the collection`s first poem, `A Silence Opens`. That `spawns`, brrr, really, I don't know if it`s foolishness or bravery. And these seemingly anachronistic slippings of poetic taste haunt this whole collection; `straddled instinctive matter` (from 'Our Virtue'); `rote incantations sneer`, and an example of the more extreme/ pointed; `polyphonic Albion`s anti-furies`, (from 'Bloody Shard Gate') give more than an idea of the mixed stylee.

So, you`ll gather that, at least for the purposes of this collection, Caddy`s phrasings move between the ancient and modern, doing a kind of linguistic bleed, and this sets up a tension so horrible on the ear at times that it does seem to risk losing the good will of the poem.

Further, I cant decide whether this is a lolling-on-gates type of poetry; backwards-looking, fearful for the wrong reasons (i.e based on the premise that what`s gone is better than what`s to come), or actually a clever and even daring attempt to display paradox at work; we are in a landscape but also have to stand outside it to see it in a historical/ecological/political context.

`Night Horizons` was perhaps the poem which I responded too most fully, meaning I was able to be `present`, and wasn't shoved out of the way as a very serious concern barged past. The paradoxical non-presence of the speaker is refreshingly there/here, despite the increasing sense of fracture and distraction. All the difficulties Caddy tries to encompass in the other poems gel more freely in this one; the individual voice, `this non-person`, `this prisoner` in a `Night School` wrestling with the experience of no `hoped for anchors`, moves to a panicky place where nature, and perhaps humanity as a core value, is squeezed into silence by the modern world, and a sensed empty vacillation and dynamism of the times, represented here by reference to popular culture:

     ...Beyond those that have power to hurt
     this jack, black emissary of dirt, deposits,

     stabs and weaves. Twist of hair and moss.
     Inside the song. Trail of blood and bit.

     Fine hair wisps. Beauty in purpose. Back of throat
     longing. Ale and more ale. Head opens to thrill.

     Trailed withered root. Multilingual litter brack,
     scored with pitch scrapings fed to cattle over-feed

     dumped carcass bleeds pink to purple gut
     womb intestinal matter left by all but yes

     but no but yes but no but butts head feed
     pulled water spots wheeling tracks past sings

     oh movement continuous untamed and well-
     tempted to steal the voice of men.

If the dynamism apparent here in this final part of the poem is un-welcomed as a recipe for living, it certainly helps as a means to power the poem forward, and draw attention to yet another paradox: `movement continuous` as both a threat and a (re)source.

`Night Horizons` is a knowing poem. It uses an understanding of literary theory which actually expands the work, whereas in some ( many?) of the other poems, this knowledge seem to run counter to initial or core concerns. So the end result is sort of fractious and jittery, as if there were conflicting beliefs on show, rather like the dilemma of putting down a fitted carpet as opposed to leaving the floorboards bare. Meaning I sense two entirely different sensibilities at work. This may be intentional, but the reading of it is difficult, and it would be easy to dismiss it as accidental, although that could of course be the case.

The weird thing is I don't really get a sense of place from these poems `about` places, which are concerned often with uneasy relationships between their (human) use and previously documented histories. What I get is a sensation like walking through an identity-less fog. And again, I wonder if that`s the point, but if it is, it`s an awful risky thing to be doing. It`s not alienation, but a kind of not-there-ness which bothers me. Nothing very visceral or tangible. Nothing much to hang onto except stray wisps, of er, fog. I suppose I`m saying there is another way to do this, and not lose the willing reader, but then that would be a poem written by someone other than Dave Caddy. Like, I can appreciate his poetry`s uniqueness, but I just cant seem to get into it.

My experience of reading Caddy poems has always been more ex than in-clusive, and the peculiar, particular androgenous nature of it doesn't help. As the title is Man in Black
I had expected to find a `present male body`but this isn't obvious either. O, maybe in `The Mill`, ( `...I hit him too hard`) sort of.  I doubt that sexual politics have much to do with this collection, but I did think that the only `male` dance or play comes from `Stag`, (`And when I am in the mood/ I can hump two moons`) which is a joy to read ... but that feels like too little too late. Maybe it`s another deliberate choice, (and not really within this collection`s remit), that the `not-there-ness` has something to do with questions about male identity too. But that thought doesn't convince me these absences are more than accidental. So, therein lies my problem.

In optics, there`s a phenomenon called `floaters`, where the eye seems to be tracking smokey dots and smears which aren't actually there. This is my whole sensation of this collection; it is too ghostly and not dirty enough.  I respect the genuine concern for land and human movement through the land over time, and his evident commitment to bringing the importance of place to my attention. I also appreciate the way Caddy focuses the outside in, drawing it down out of the fragmentation of a manic world to halt, stand, look, and view. Pondering is not such a popular activity nowadays, and I`m all for it. But even when he`s dealing with something as graspable as a copse of trees, the whole view flutters about and fails to reveal itself as a solid thing.

In `Church Hill`, the view is `not there`, but presented in a sub-Berkeleian way as something living only through a human engagement with it: `...I propose to you a hill. / In the woods rooks call attention / to our presence...`, which is such a peculiar idea I don`t know how I feel about it. It is like being invited in to an exclusion. Bizarre.

`...The landscape we love grows dark / so easily.` Yes, I see that, but I have no idea where this is, or why I should care about it in anything more than the most generalised of ways. This poetry really worries me. And I don't even know if I mean in a good or bad way.

This work, says John Kinsella, is `prophetic`. It may well be. Without doubt, it`s a serious collection.... For me, engagement with the work comes first, and if there were more poems like 'Night Horizons', I wouldn`t be wondering whether the lack of solidity was intentional or not, or trying to decide whether I`d missed something really clever; I`d be `in` the poems, with them. Or again, have I missed the point?

    Sandra Tappenden 2008