I was going to start with a confession: that in a previous issue of Staple, lan Pople wrote a very favourable review of my poetry. Do I need to confess that? Does it in some way devalue my responses to his poems? Is the world of poetry publishing and reviewing a small, back-scratching one? Well, it is small. As to the other, well, imagine the lazy opposite:
Reviews Editor: I've been sent this book of poetry. Haven't really read it or given any thought as to whether you'll like it or be interested enough to write something engaging about it. Whatever, can you knock off 600 words?
Fortunately, the Reviews Editor of Staple read these poems before deciding that I might indeed like them and perhaps be interested enough to write about them. That seems to me to be happening in a world that cares about poetry. It's the same world in which Michael Longley chooses to write about Seamus Heaney, where Elizabeth Bishop wrote about Robert Lowell. Back-scratchers, on the other hand, are used for irritating itches on your spine.
Poets think a long time about how to order their poems in collections. The second poem, For this relief, much thanks might suggest a certain kind of conventional expectation is about to be served:
grass, a mulch of fallen leaf, people
waiting. Behind me, my appointment.
But turn back to the earlier Kissing Gate where
A couple stand without kissing and any such easy assumptions have already been nudged away, one of the couple thinking:
'I was a gate once.' Beyond that:
mill chimneys by sloping moorside
that gesture to gable ends
of terraced houses, a town centre
that is settled on the earth.
Precise observation of the natural world is a gesture of love to that world as well as a craft to be nurtured in writers - Pople is a teacher of literature and creative writing. Beyond that, he knows that precision is not enough for the poetry to take flight. Something (quirky, comic, epiphanic moment, an idea) must be uncovered. His poems are suffused with such uncoverings:
You might as well pray
for the bramble to slink back
away from the allotment path,
and the strawberries to compete;
Yes, come to think of it, how collaborative, peaceable and nesty warm strawberries do look!
This flight is evident again in the five poem sequence Handiwork of Light. The title might suggest a stilled, meditative approach, but the human story emerges and an opening poem of arresting gracefulness emerges from the agile brushwork:
Pople's sequence The Shearer and the Lamb consists of fifteen three-quatrain poems of 2 and 3 beat lines. They are also dated from May 05 to June 06 (with the exception of two marked 'nd' which I take as no date). I have always liked the idea of dated poems. Those little marks that identify the day suggest a confidence in the idea of a poem being of the moment, and also that it has been achieved in that moment. The poet's confidence in that swift and consummate execution may be misplaced, but not here. Pople beckons the thematic and rhythmic shades of early Eliot:
Under the overhang,
in the smell of overhang,
cordoned off in the city,
a man in a raincoat
stands beside graffiti
turns to let a small
white dog remake
itself with urban smell,
as the flatbed braking
beside the platform
sheds upon commuters
its electric musk.
The sequence is marvellously various and though mostly floating clear of paraphrase-able meaning (an elusiveness that is not a sin) its individual parts are beautifully formed structures of nuance and suggestiveness...
The corner of a horse-field,
with open half-garages,
a magpie coming in, low
over the flat roofs. The smell
of pruned cypress made them
feel at home for a moment,
when they were in love:
when they emerged from
the weekend hotel with eyes
slightly glazed, and turned
along the High Street
for one final photograph.
... building to what I am going to propose as the palpable and realised theme of this sequence: human vulnerability and exposure, sustenance, nurture and (this is lyric poetry after all)... death.