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Review: August Light, by Pete Morgan

...but first, it's time to crack open the wine, switch off the telly, take the phone off the hook and crash out on the sofa, it's a new Pete Morgan book, an event to relish. Here we have it, seventy-five pages of August Light, this is not just ray of sunshine poetry, this is, in my book, the whole fulgent sun. August Light opens with a sequence of poems with titles such as Fish, Seal, Bats and Badgers. Then there's NP94B1721, a poem about finding a dead pigeon. Here Peter is casting his eye over wildlife, his view of nature is rooted in an urban perspective, by this I mean, I get the impression that the author is very interested in wildlife, but if he wants to see it, he has to pull his wellies on and get out for a drive. There is something honest about these poems, as I'm writing I'm trying to pin this down, why honest? It's as if we live in a world where we are sold things, where writer's make things up to an extent that the thriller has to be the most thrilling, the romance the most romantic, with Pete, he examines and he says this is how it is. He doesn't make it cosy, if it's not cosy. It's not just observation, it is imaginative too, but we are asked d to imagine the spiritual or Mr M gives us his experience and passes on to us, the job of making out what we will of the poems. That, in my book, is exactly what a good poet should do.

Section two of August Light, residency at a psychiatric hospital, poems marked by Mr M's characteristic strength of rhythm and unflinching eye. For me, these poems seem a little unfulfilled. We do get good descriptions and a particularly poignant poem, Taking Leave, about Lizzie leaving her home to go into residential care. However, any work carried out with psychiatric patients carries with it an obligation of confidentiality, and rightly so. But what stories? The mind boggles to think of all that raw material in the hands of such a capable poet.

Part three is a bit of a miscellany, of particular interest is the poem The Passionate Adventure which recalls a very similar, perhaps the same incident too that captured in Simon Armitage's The Strid (from Universal Home Doctor), the incident being the inexplicable drowning of a newly married couple. Simon values the anecdotal, the tight on the page, he maintains this consideration for the reader to the point that his tone comes across as slightly jocular, whereas Mr M's tone is more formal, more radio four, more Shakespeare, less hip. One of the reasons for this is, Mr A aims for the earwigged, he tries to surprise you by keeping the tone so close to the chinwagged that you become surprised to hear you've just read a poem, he camouflages the rhymes by using slant or half rhyme in conjunction with enjambments. Hugely influential this technique has proved to be. Mr M's poetry is an uncompromising positive celebration of the ancient tradition of the lyric, of poetry as different to prose. The predominantly fully end-stopped rhymes don't hide. They are proud of themselves. As unfashionable as it is, I like this standing up for poetry as poetry. I like rhyme if it drives the poem, if it doesn't get in the way of the meaning, if it isn't bent in. I have no bones o pick with August Light on this score, but I know it won't appeal to everyone.

The fourth part of the book appears to find Mr M dwelling on this preoccupation poets have with writing, two poems in particular, Crab Apple and After thought, work as metaphors:

I want that tree a fist. I want a fight
Between the weather and the punch of sap -
The quick left hook, the upper cut, the right

Crab Apple goes on to examine the narrator attempting to lop a tree, which visibly needs to be lopped, but when the narrator gets into the middle of the tree (poem), gets up close, finds difficulty chopping because, close up, he can't see what is obvious from a distance. Not only that, the technical structure is superb. Take this abstract, there's a lot going on. The first thing to notice is the full stop after fist, this gives the reader time to breathe in, in the middle of the line, but then you have the short four syllables I want a fight end of line, so breathe again, I want repeated binding the line, making it poetry. So we have the tree a fist and punch of sap, you can see where the vocabulary wants you to go, you've also got the repetition of 'p' in punch, sap and upper, then the 'ks' in quick - hook - cut, the 'us' in hook and upper and the full rhyme of fight with right.

When writing this review, I found myself, several times thinking of showing you the whole poem and saying look! This is what Pete Morgan can do. I've resisted that temptation, in the hope that a few of you might cough up the £8.99 and buy a copy of August Light. There seems to be, in poetry, a few poets such as Heaney, who take the prizes and the book sales, in quantities that outweigh the discrepancy between the authors in terms of ability. Heaney is great, Pete Morgan is also great, his interest and ideas cover similar realms and territory to Heaney and his technical achievement is, in my opinion, equal to Heaney and while I appreciate that the motive for writing of both of these writers isn't to sell a lot of books, clearly one of them deserves to be and should be read by a lot more people. In my book, that's important.