Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Offering by William Bonar
Red Squirrel Press, £6.00

Shapes on the page

Just what is William Bonar offering, a reader might wonder? I did. The word suggests both a secular and sacred gift. As a literary offering, it is a handsome pamphlet: shiny pale grey cover, cream pages where the poems are inhabiting their spaces very nicely, thank you. I like to flick slowly through a pamphlet before I read to see what shapes the poems make on the page and William Bonar has thought about this, I can see.

There are the compact couplets of the title poem which measure out a story of an old man who takes pity on a young couple, offers them food, ‘ And we ate, like graceless northern gods, / Too young to imagine how we might receive’. ‘Gunmetal day’ – a sonnet – offers back the ‘grey’ of the cover in that title and in an initially bleak landscape, ‘There was nowhere to walk, but we walked / into old industrial grit’, warmed by memories of kisses ‘on North African / tarmac, on a grainy railway platform, / on a tide-lapped beach’. This, all in service of a carpe diem, ‘before hearts lay still / and the bell of loving lost its tongue.’

Of all William Bonar’s offerings, though, I like best his precise imagistic poems about different places. I am happily ‘In Orkney (with George Mackay Brown’s eyes)’:

the hare on the hill
the peat hag   the lamb
the boats by the quay
the light and the dark

‘Markings’ captures sensory experience in eight lines – a ‘pee on frost’ on the Oban road; how ‘scented vapour rises / tincture / of animal / of stardust’ (no full-stop after ‘stardust’, the poem stays open to the stars). ‘Falling’ with its ‘whitebait winds     skies / deep-dyed indigo and ‘ washed light’ is a painting I can smell and taste with stretched spaces between to make me stay a little longer to savour the experience.

Such is the variety of William Bonar’s offerings.

This pamphlet would make an excellent gift.

Pam Thompson