Leven Books, 2005 - £4.00
Clearly James Muir is a poetry lover. He loves the discipline of form and rhyme, and we can tell he loved his teacher from ‘Big Mac’: “On that dread page his name in black/ ...The guiding light will guide no more”. And he loves the poetry he was taught, and wants to write it. In ‘Kiss Me No More’, he makes
a vow as deep as love can feel—
whose tremulous note, lingering still,
abjures the trumpet’s blatant shrill.
His word choice describing his commitment to the art is certainly emotive. It seems to me, however, that poetry is not exactly about words. In good writing, the words seem to disappear when you look hard. I had a sense that Muir’s language was just too intense for its own good, that I was too aware of the poet wielding the words. In what seems to me the strongest poem in the collection, ‘White Hair’, the poet remembers a concentration camp:
And this recalls white hair I saw,
Swept to a pile in that huge room,
Close-by the naked corpses’ heap,
That tangled mass, in this, their tomb.
With a scene so visually horrendous as this, why should I want to take issue with the fact that the room was not literally the corpses’ tomb? Perhaps the words themselves are just too rhetorical. Poetic licence does not, I feel, fit with a régime so meticulous in its destruction as the Nazis.
Reading through this collection, the reader senses Muir’s overwhelming sense of loss, his defiant stance against contemporary culture, his lack of a comforting God. This is clearly a poet not going gently into any good night. But it’s hard to see quite what the poems are doing other than protesting. Then I found my clue in the poem ‘E=mc²’:
That when the pleasures and the strains
Of music and of life are felt no more,
Yet in this world some scrap of us remains?
A man with no God, Muir is building his own eternity, in bricks of solid, dependable, structured poetry: his Legacy.