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
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:
a babing ball
of my parents’
I grew up in
fed on the
love of kin
I Cool Hand
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
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,
seamed me through & through.
Never knew a
quick and that was it.
seemed most polite,
what was wrong from right,
Always did it
three times round.
Told me I was
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.
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!
Gillies MacLaurin 2010
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is also a poet. See his article, ‘An Anglo-Scot in
Denmark’, at http://www.the-chimaera.com/October2007/Expat/MacLaurin.html