Memories, Dreams and Mutations


Early Train, Jonathan Davidson (54pp, £9.95, Smith/Doorstep Books)

Misky, David Hart (32pp, £4.50, Flarestack Poets)

Compendium, Kristina Marie Darling (56pp, $12.00, Cow Heavy Books)

Cloud Breaking Sun, John James (32pp, £5, Oystercatcher Press)



On a first leaf through, Jonathan Davidson's poems seem unexceptional in form or content - stanzaic, regular, eschewing the flash, concerned with family life, suburbia, memory. A more careful reading of what you think will another transit of Everyman through Middle England in fact reveals a poetry that surprises, that shows craft and judgement and dexterity, and deploys sudden poignancies, charges of sadness. Happiness is seen as a precarious state, memory is not always consoling; the finely-observed physical environments are inhabited by figures who are often on the brink of vanishing into adult life - or out of it.


      Breathless, a giddy child is danced in a front room.

     When he is stopped he stares at the long mirror,

     at the shiny picture of himself,

     a hand raised in greeting and goodbye.

          (from 'The cul de sac')



The dream landscape of David Hart's pamphlet is opened up for us by degrees by the voice of his narrator - there's a delapidated cathedral ripe for redevelopment, a canal towpath, a station platform, a locale populated with wandering poets and vendors of odd wares, where the figure of Misky (denizen of benches, savant of the towpath) administers a skewed wisdom and is rewarded with a kind of apotheosis. Themes of the supplanting of God by Mammon and the necessary migration of wisdom from the established church to the dispossessed swim in and out of focus. The ultimate significance of Misky is never nailed down, at least not for this reader, but the quality of the poetry - the matter-of-fact, somewhat disoriented narrator making certain patently untenable assumptions about our prior knowledge of his situation, the humour whose springs are somewhat occluded, the off-the-cuff flashes of linguistic brilliance - compels the attention.


     Misky is being taken into the sky, yes, yes, into the sky,

     up there he is now, carried into indeterminate grey,

     and into the distance blue, than grey harsher.


     I wonder if he has fourpence in his pocket,

     I tried to see from his eyes before he went higher

     if he has fourpence.                             

                                      Not my business.

             (from 'Misky is being taken')



I reviewed one of Kristina Marie Darling's books, The body is a little gilded cage, in Stride quite recently, but was delighted with the chance to see her latest work. In truth, it uses the same strategies as her previous book and it's none the worse for that  - the prose poems, the redaction of these to a sparse, nervy poetry, the critical apparatus sans texts (notes, footnotes, glossaries, introductions) which further mutates the original prose poems. Realities are no sooner coalesced than overtaken by other realities; linguistic erasure and palimpsest and recycling is the basis of their construction. Fascinating and rewarding - I'll be interested to see where Darling goes next.


     "It was only then I wished to preserve my collection, its infinite variety. In each

     of the charms, a constellation. In every necklace a cluster of nervous stars."

               (from 'Footnotes to a history of dress')




The infallibly excellent Oystercatcher Press has pulled off something of a coup with its publication of John James, who in a long and successful poetic career has attracted (and shrugged aside) such tags as 'avant-garde' and 'Cambridge School'. Over 5 decades, James' creative intelligence has remained restless and self-renewing, always looking to challenge itself and us, though the results have been, for the most part, eminently accessible. In Cloud breaking sun the retrospectives of travels and visitations, of old friends and vanished times, are undertaken with an exemplary calm and kindness. Lives where poetry was and had to be the centre are touched on, re-animated.


     o mon lecteur mon lectrice may you live your life

     as on the wide part of the road with

     no fringe or border to mercy


     I wish you the fruits of the four seasons

     & every day as the sun beckons

     may you be delivered to that daily glow

            (from 'Recollection ode: les sarments')


                     İAlasdair Paterson 2012