DEFYING THE ODDS: Selected Poems by David
216pp, £9.99, Sow's Ear Press, 93 The
Hollow, Littleover, Derby DE23 3BS
QUARLL by Chris
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
She thinks of him
out in the cold,
his eyes like
bale-fires gleaming gold,
alert for falcon,
dog or stoat,
elusive in his
'Little Fluffy Goes Native']
These 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.
In 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