Mariscat Press, 2007 - £5.00 www.scottish-pamphlet-poetry.com
Donald Mackay’s Kept in the Dark is one of those collections that had to grow on me. The first read through didn’t make much impression—nothing wrong, just it all felt a bit slow and too subtle; but the more I read the poems, the more I liked the cumulative effect—its whole was greater than the sum of its parts, as with the last poem. ‘Waiting’, is very slight: I can’t see it making much impact on its own. A child watches for a parent to return late after work. The poem, and the collection, finish very low key. Here it is in full:
Some days we wouldn’t see you much;
working late, she said.
We’d off to bed
and I would sit and wait, and watch
from the window. ‘Get back to bed’
she’d say. And I would lie
awake until I
was rewarded by your heavy tread.
Some aspects of the language concerned me. Mackay seems a bit too fond of the word-ending ‘ness’. Scattered through the collection, we get not only Caithness a couple of times, but closeness, kindness, blueness, green-ness, blackness, darkness, forgiveness, littleness, loveliness, emptiness and handiness; even “perfect imperfectness”. And some constructed words, in phrases like
manning fingers for their felt-ness
which I found annoying rather than intriguing. Quite a few ‘less’ word-endings too, and none of them obviously chosen for the rhyme sound.
As one expects from Mariscat, however, it’s beautifully presented, and despite my carping, overall I enjoyed the poems, though I’d be hard pushed to sum up what they’re about. Skies, wings and petals, a couple of nice observations on children, and there’s lots of weather—‘The Wind and the Rain’ reminded me of Thomas Hardy. Some of the images are lovely, like the lines which conclude ‘After an Egg’:
And worked toward on hands and knees
over the floor; then in beneath the flare
of soft bird, sharper straw, to reach the place
where fingers slid still deeper-in, to prize
a first egg, like the round O of surprise
made by a hand around its handiness.
When Donald Mackay gets it right, it feels very right.