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Review: Claiming Kindred, by D. M. Black

from the article Talking About My Generation

Claiming Kindred remembers and reflects on the past by means of touching vignettes and personal elegies on/to the poet's friends, for example, Two Shots at an Elegy:

You always said you had an angel on the bonnet.
Maybe you did. I hope he killed you quickly.
Dear Peter, man of action, life enhancer...

I do like the irony and biting intelligence of I Allot Honours in the Second World War where Black contrasts in a series of rhyming couplets his father's public and private actions and their effects on the family left at home. His father here stands for many a returning soldier:

Daddy I guess you would never suspect the havoc your
soldiering made,
not in the breast of the enemy, but where your children played.

But there is also lively humour in the collection with a good deal of amusing not to say irreverent narrative:

When he was a boy, in the pious village,
The man who could turn dumb bread into living flesh
Was a magician.
Later
he enjoyed describing that persistent weed, the marestail,
As priest's prick, always getting in if you don't pay proper
Attention


Marestail, or Priest's Prick

His sonnets on the subject of age near the end are very skilled, for example Golden Wedding with its elevated tone beginning Age had not altered his authority and recalling Laurence Binyon's Poem For the Fallen, or in a less elevated tone, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Birmingham:

Imagine being poor bloody Jerusalem,
Unsmilingly screwed by three inexhaustible lovers.
Wouldn't it be much better to be Birmingham
Over-rated by nobody?

And again on war. (I remember feeling very much like this on the evening in question):

(the moon is) the point of reference
From which the hubbub of our history can
Be reconfigured...
The world is changing
In ways beyond our imagery.


Reflections on the Eve of the Iraq War

The poem is an allusion no doubt to Yeats' apocalyptic Easter 1916 - All is changed, changed utterly / a terrible beauty is born.

Or have we now gone beyond beauty and are simply left with the terror? I hope not and D.M. Black is hopeful too since many of his poems refer to the possibility of redemption.

As must be obvious, he is, if narrowly, my favourite of the three. (...in contrast to D.M. Black's more elegiac rhythms, and often elevated tone... they both deal with themes of ageing and personal history, there are considerable differences in approach.) He has a lifetime of experience with European languages, (there are a couple of translations in the collection), with poetry and the stuff of things. His voice in the end becomes both joyful and prophetic, arguably the function of the best poems - for example, in A Meditation on a Line of Shakespeare: (Sonnet 31)' he concludes:

And what seemed meaningless, or was left broken,
or stayed opaque, obscure, can now stand simply open -
sunlit and flawed in this spring warmth of thanks.

Or in Two at a Party where we are left with a line that lingers long after the poem has ended about his friend's 'courageous joy' which, in the face of severe illness, Still keeps the world great as the future narrows.