Impermanence, Colin Bancroft
Maytree Press, 2020 £7.00
Living through loss
Colin Bancroft’s pamphlet surprised me with its opening four poems. They’re the first poems I’ve come across that give a father’s perspective about what I took to be a miscarriage. ‘Tethered’ starts:
All I could think about when you told me
That we had lost it, was that night
We spent camping in Braemar
And the wind funnelling down
An extended metaphor follows, conveying the storms of grief as the narrator sits with his partner, trying to hold onto her: ‘That night I thought that we might blow away. / I could feel the guy ropes burying themselves / Deeper [...]’.
Throughout, an understated control of form movingly creates an atmosphere of contained grieving. The next three poems explore what it’s like to continue with ordinary life while still not adjusted to the actuality of loss. The narrator drives country lanes, looks at a barren sky, walks around Harry Potter Studios, all with a sense of profound disbelief resonating beneath the surface. For example, here are the closing lines of ‘Absence’, with a last line that deliberately stops mid-phrase:
Hearing the crackle whir of tyres on the road
Is like listening to a recording of an empty room.
An absence looped over and over and
It takes skill to move the reader from such a devastated tone to a mood that’s entirely new — in just a few pages. But quietly Bancroft shifts to poems that consider historical events, imagining the lives of characters both historical and fictional (as in ‘After Frankenstein’). These work well, conjuring surprising details. Something about these character-filled subjects seems to push the poet to a pleasing, subtle playfulness, which helps lift the mood and bring contrast to the collection as a whole.
But ultimately death, grief and vulnerability haunt the poems, like the rabbits and stoats who shoot out of verges ‘too quickly for me / To see’ (‘Roadkill’). I was left feeling contemplative; and as though this might be a pamphlet I’d turn to for understanding at times of sorrow.