A fine collection of prose and poetry from one of IT’s poets. Beginning strongly with Dancing,
”The question is,” he begins, “the question is, does an artist need an audience?”
Perhaps not. Is an artistic act still Art if there’s no audience? I think it is: the creation, production or performance of any artistic endeavour is exquisite, whether seen or unseen.
This leads to the next poem We do it…,
Because we’re high-wire dancers
Always about to fall…
sums up a testy response to WH Auden’s remark
“A writer or, at least a poet, is always being asked by people who should know better: “Whom do you write for?”
Gorgeous poems of childhood follow, I particularly liked Born Dead, of being revived at birth, and At First, which evokes an old lady and her grandson in a very few phrases. Anyone who has heard their parents yelling matches will recognise the feelings in As the first plate flies… There is also the excruciating guilt of childhood and George Formby at Blackpool in Overheard, Catholic references, childhood fancies, reminiscences, his grandparents and the Great War, ghosts, school pals and, in On the line to Belsen – A Gospel is redrafted, a questioning of the dogma told to us as children.
A Lesson for Jennet is a tale of how Grandam Demdike would teach the child to tice cats. He would shut his eyes and fancy his old cat Tibb –
I’d fancy the weighty warm of him.
There is much black humour, and I loved his short poem In with the Shrink, about the personality evaluation Rorschach test:
He’s looking at ink-blots.
As each one’s held up
He’s asked “What is this?”
And his answer’s always
“Beautiful,” he says.
There are dark stories also, some set in America and Canada: The Hanged Man… and Wounded Knee. Beasts loom large: The Bear, Fetish and Lone Wolf, Kes.
Poems of melancholia, those termed insane, psych units, hospitals and illness, but there are many bright sparks of gladness and humour too.
I loved The Trouble with Wings, a parable of the man who grows wings, but has to get rid of them, as they alarm his family, work and community too much. His life improves,
But sometimes he’ll look towards the sky
And the flesh between his shoulder blades
Will tug and ache.
In the ode to Leonardo, They say…, we learn that da Vinci would buy a caged bird each day, and set it free with thanks, and watch swirling water so that
He could deduce the workings
Of every human heart
There are love poems, from And sometimes to the bruisingly funny The Wife of Genius. The book ends strongly with the lovely Danielle.
The esteemed screenwriter, Jimmy McGovern, calls Kevin McCann
“One of the best poets in the country”.
A beautiful and evocative anthology, thanks.