On the Right Path


A to B
, Gerry McGrath (93pp, 9.95, Carcanet)


Gerry McGrath's first collection lives up to expectations. Named as 'one to watch' by the New Statesman in March 2007, he has now delivered.

A to B
records Gerry's journey from teaching modern languages through an attack of ME to a residency at the Hotel Chevillon, Gres-sur-Loing, south of Fontainebleau, a Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Award in 2004.

          Forget the old life.
          Yesterday. The future
          lies somewhere
          in the afternoon.

          Later, watching the wind
          lift the sycamores.
          Everyone he loved he left.
                          (from 'Sycamores')

Gerry's website reveals how after a drive with his wife to Crianlarich, Inverary and back beside Loch Lomond in 2002, he wrote dozens of poems

           Since then they have come at the rate
           of one a day.
                         (from 'Steady')

The poems and prose poems, there are about a dozen of these, are all short, some very short. And not a word is redundant. No rhyme, no regular pattern on the page, but each has its own shape. You wouldn't ever mistake them for prose. Precise observation, often of nature is conveyed in a rhythm unique to the movement, e.g. of feet on a path:

          Here again, yes here, touched
          yes, by the future. Let me say

          how we progressed down the hill
          stepping from fog to visibility
                           (from 'The Language of Pines')

'Clouds/lie like salmon' (from 'Phenomenon'). 'There is a silence of squirrels' (from 'In No Time').

The mundane shades into the timeless:

         Yesterday I returned a cd loan, but not before
         I'd bought a tape and taped it.
         It's on now. Side A of the last
         Quartets. Far away I am listening.
                            (from 'Early Flowers')

Human emotion is here too, for parents, wife, in 'Only Life', 'The Water, the Shore', 'Weight' and 'Baci'.

This poet loves words, Scottish words like 'gret' and 'snell', the rhythm of Spanish, and especially 'precisely'
, the word his father said 'not knowing/he was entering/his final month' (from 'Only Life').
This is what poetry should be, experiences we all share made fresh and original so that they matter:

          Springday like a tusk. Buds at last
          Have outrun the long-distance winter
          to push through.
          Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodil stems
          quake like cowards in a pale springlight
          that has settled like overnight rain
          on the garden's top lip.
                              ('Overnight')


                    Geoff Sutton 2008