Loopy Lupin

Tality Tales
, Ian Lukins
(90pp, 150 DKK , Lapwing, Brombaervej 28, 8410 Roende, Denmark)


The Brits, the English especially, are renowned for their eccentricity. When it comes to national character, this is one of the few areas where we have the edge on Danes. Thus I find it comforting to see a fellow ex-pat in Denmark not only retain this side of his nature but actually insist on its essential validity.

Ian Lukins is a teacher at Grenaa Gymnasium on the east coast of Jutland. He has also done quite a bit of translation and photography. The title of this poetry collection, his debut, at the age of 60, reflects his willfulness and playfulness inasmuch as ‘tality’ is a neologism without an explanation. On being quizzed as to the meaning of ‘tality’, the author merely responded: “'Tality' is the summation of 18 words with tality as their suffix.” The most obvious of these 18 is perhaps ‘mortality’, but that is surely reserved for a second collection, More Tality Tales

The topics and themes the poet addresses are traditional ones – nature, love, death, loss, outsiders, etc. – and his treatment of these, i.e. his philosophical take, is not exactly original, but the way he structures his poems is singular, and his linguistic creativity is striking.

The prologue, ‘Playname’, lists the various ways the author’s unusual surname, Lukins, has been misrepresented, either in jest or in error. The poem begins:

     Full lunar-faced,
     a babing ball
     with golden locks –
     sweet apple
     of my parents’ isle –
     I grew up in lullaby
     fed on the love of kin
     as little Luby Lu.

    Later, blue full-bloomed,
     I Cool Hand Luked
     and loony-lurched
     the lucky land
     in lagging boots
     as Loopy Lupin.

It ends: ‘…my very own ID.’ These two capitalized letters correspond not only to the first two initials of the author’s full name, Ian David Lukins, but also to the two letters that precede his surname. Numerological buffs will know that the numerical value of the letter ‘I’ is 1 and that of ‘D’ is 4, i.e. 14. The numerical value of ‘Ian’ is 7, that of ‘David’ 16=7. And 7+7=14. The number of letters in his full name is also14, and this number plays a central role in the whole collection. The first part is called ‘Fourteeners’ and contains 14 poems of 14 lines each. The numerical value of ‘Lukins’ is 20=2, and 14+2=16=7. The number 7 is also central; the subsequent five parts have seven poems each, one of which, ‘Seveners’, has seven seven-line poems.

As the author has pointed out, the title is incomplete. It has 11 letters, and with the significance of the number 14 in mind, we may assume it is missing three letters. The numerical value of ‘tality’ is 14, and that of ‘tales’16=7. 14 +7=21=3. To end with a value of 7 (like his name) we need letters that have a numerical value of 4. The three words we can use are ‘brutality’ (‘bru’=11=2), ‘mentality’ (‘men’=14=5) and ‘mortality’ (‘mor’=13=4). Ah-hah! ‘mortality’ it is.

Lukins is not the only poet to have been fascinated by these numbers. George Mackay Brown, for example, used them consciously in the structuring of his writing, while Douglas Dunn used the numbers 7 and 13 unconsciously in his Elegies

The unwary reader with no knowledge of syllabic verse may be excused for missing the fact that each poem in ‘Laconics I’ comprises 14 syllables, but when line 14 of ‘One More Question Before the Bell’ reads: ‘56 syllables’, and when the poem continues: ‘No, now 62 … / No, now 67 …’, the author provides the reader with a key to this aspect of his poetry. Lines 1-13 do indeed contain 56 syllables, and the question at the start of the poem (‘What’s a pendulum?’) asks us to wonder whether the rest of the poem contains 56 syllables too. Happily, it does. In fact the syllables are also subdivided into patterned groups of lines: 3 lines of 14 syllables, 5 of 21, 5 of 21, 6 of 28, and 10 of 28. Meanwhile there are 28 letters in the title, also with a patterned subdivision: 3+4=7; 8+6=14; 3+4=7.

That this play with numbers is not restricted to multiples of seven can be seen from the very next poem, whose title, ‘The Ebb and the Flow’, announces another mirrored structure. The first 85 syllables end: ‘…you want to flow…’, and the last 85 syllables start ‘…but feel the ebb…’

There are many other examples of syllables grouped in symmetrical patterns elsewhere, predominantly using the numbers 14 and 7, but by no means exclusively. The pieces in ‘Laconics II’, for example, are a kind of extended, free-form laconic (a genre that is the author’s own invention), but there is still a very tight symmetry in the grouping of syllables.

While the first four sections are meditative and minimalistic, with light touches of linguistic dexterity, the last two sections are rather different, and it is here that the accompanying CD is most valuable. In ‘Vocalics’ the pieces are longer, and the tone gradually becomes more expansive as the poet gives his dramatic talent free rein. This culminates in the final section, ‘Localics’, with its very humorous, raunchy sketches in the accents and idioms of the poet’s childhood, which was spent in Somerset with a Welsh mother. Here’s an excerpt from ‘Bedridden Rosie’:

     Dai the cloth was steamy too,
     stitched and seamed me through & through.
     Never knew a better fit,
     clothes off quick and that was it.

     Reverend Dai seemed most polite,
     taught me what was wrong from right,
     Always did it three times round.
     Told me I was holy ground.

This is verse at its most personal, but not because it is in any way confessional. Indeed, the author’s age is indiscernible, while his only concession to direct personal history, apart from his tributes to Wales and Somerset, are a handful of dedications, most notably to his Danish wife, Kirsten Marie, to whom the collection is dedicated.

Tality Tales
is original poetry that is refreshingly uncluttered by literary allusions. The language is simple, yet speckled with colourful vocabulary; the subject matter is often ordinary, yet never banal. In poetry the path between triteness and pretentiousness is hard to find, yet alone follow. Lukins seems to have done both. More, please!

     © Duncan Gillies MacLaurin 2010

Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is also a poet. See his article, ‘An Anglo-Scot in Denmark’, at