Continuing Professional Development

, Mark Goodwin (107pp, Shearsman)

Mark Goodwin is an English poet I've not read before; in fact, have never heard of until now. However, the list of acknowledgements in this book seem to suggest I might be a rarity in this respect. The biography and the photograph of the poet suggest he spends much of his life outdoors, and the poems in Else certainly seem to back this up.

So, as it's Christmas and my only exercise and taste of fresh air might well be reading this book whilst sitting here at the computer with a glass of wine, listening to Andrew Poppy, I'm pleased with it already. I feel fitter, my lungs feel cleaner, and the world's already a better place. Not one to take things as seen, though, I already have a hankering to explore the poems if only to test whether or not they do what it says 'on the tin' so to speak.

The first poem I liked in the book is one called 'Waiting'. Having just read Phil Maillard's new book(s) and being transported back to the world of Seamus Heaney with his outdoors, nature, air thang
, it's refreshing to see that Goodwin is also working along the same lines. In this poem, 'The sky is ripe - blue fruit, / soft to the sight./

I like to have my senses fused together - it gives me that synaesthesic flashback of being elsewhere: another continent, another age. The past is another country, after all. Waiting for time to pass: I can relate to that.

'I Turned' is similar in outlook: again, like in some of Maillard's poems urban and rural merge, throw up similarities like Jungian cross-overs:

   The lit city's rim is

   interrupted: rural pushes
   prongs of night through
   Leicester's north-western

Having driven through the city's northern membrane
in the distant past en route to Peterborough to visit my ex-wife's parents, I'm thinking of other, sharper prongs though.

Best out of the grimy city into rurality
again (a noun MS Word dislikes but which Collins dictionary approves of), the flat lands throw up 'Some blackbirds startled;/ sirens reply. The rim // is still in the world.

Goodwin pegs his images down to the ground, carries them across substance and mettle, settling them in their place, content. Some of the poems begin like novels, with a sentence that hooks the reader into a barrage of scenes. In 'An Idea of Fire, West Penwith' he starts off:
   Fire is my brother's mistress. (So he says.)

How could you not continue reading after that introduction? I defy you not to do so. He says, a little further into the poem:

   First my brother begins a little grave: he turfs
   the sward, and to contain
   his flickering slut he surrounds
   the brown earth-mouth with grave-granite -
   a wall of Cornish stone-teeth.

If you're not sure what the sward
is, type it into your computer if that's where you are now. MS Word, my fickle mistress of the Mac, doesn't mind this one.

The poem goes on to turn fire-lighting and -tending into an erotic, Wicker Man-esque affair (I use the word carefully) and ends with the group of people in the poem 'in love with her, & her dance...'

It's an entertaining, fulsome collection of poems which should satisfy your (Munchausen's-by-proxy) desire for exercise, fresh air and nature during any season, not just Christmas. Some of the poems in their subject matter and feel remind me of Richard Murphy, the Irish poet. That returning to water, to stone, to mimic substance.

The blurb suggests he's still 'learning to write poetry'. I have to suggest that he might have completed this stage of his studies, and I look forward to seeing where his on-the-job Continuing Professional Development takes him in the near future. 

         John Gimblett 2009