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Review: Saving Spaces, by Ian Pople

The poems in this collection tend to be brief and to focus on a single thought or idea, and even the few longer ones are broken into short sections on a common theme. Often they open with ostensibly mundane scenarios that build into simple meditations on the fragile nature of being here or having been here (I came upon the thing / that I was) or metaphors for what we might call the human experience, such as when a person running and kicking up / snow in arcs fails to see thin chains hung with snow- / between thin white posts. This kind of quiet poetry requires a certain understated deftness, and where Pople pulls it off his poems radiate a sense that through the poet's consciousness we might glimpse the imprint of our own. In particular, he has a knack for tight, right endings, such as that of For this Relief, Much Thanks: the speaker sees above his head a flotsam of roofs, birds, dishes,

clock towers above hotel conversions,
the clouded background; down there,
grass, a mulch of fallen leaf, people
waiting. Behind me, my appointment.

The poems in Saving Spaces are not always so effective, and too many of them attempt the same sort of thing. A few are fleshed-out haiku, and might have been more concentrated while pulling the same weight - such as Seven Answers, in which a loved one turns [her] head / and neck coquettishly, unwittingly in league with the sails of a distant windmill. At rare moments Pople's phrasing can be uninspired or awkward (the childhood park, your warmth, / the sexual nest): a serious flaw in work that relies on being so finely tuned. But none of this prevents Saving Places from being, in the main, a wistfully enjoyable book of universals, of doubt and hope, rooted in a very recognizable provincial England in which a train waits across / from Granma Pollard's / Famous Chippy, a chapel leans into silence; built / by subscription, among clay pits and brick fields, and a man leads a rough-hewn life with its filament / of reflection.