Calder Wood Press, 2013 £4.00
Reviewed by Matthew Stewart, Rebecca Bird and Christie Williamson
The title for Colin Will’s The year’s six seasons, is taken from the poem ‘Haar’, which ends as follows:
So many times, in all weathers, I walk here,
in the year’s six seasons, and each new today.
Discursive and direct, this shows the celebratory element of the chapbook, which is dedicated to “good friends” from ”Dunbar” and relishes aspects of life there.
As a consequence, it’s worth highlighting two words that very much define the collection. The year’s six seasons is made up of 35 pages of verse, in which “here” is mentioned no fewer than twelve times, while “home” crops up on eight occasions. However, this statistic doesn’t mean Will’s poetry is repetitive. Instead, he’s implicitly exploring the different perspectives and ramifications of these two words, ”each new today”, as in the above-mentioned quote.
By way of illustration, here’s an example from ‘Foul winds’, where both words are not only present but juxtaposed:
Here, home, there’s no name
for the onshore wave-whipper, tear-squeezer,
gull-lifter, sea-creamer, boat-rocker, spray-flinger;
I can call it anything; or nothing – just the wind.
Like the eiders behind the breakwater,
I’m sitting it out, sheltered, at peace.
This extract sees the poet purposely overreaching as he seeks impossible definitions that are beyond language. Nevertheless, this isn’t carried out with any sense of anguish. It’s a celebration of the awe of belonging, of place, of anchoring, which leaves him “at peace”.
Colin Will’s The year’s six seasons is a collection that portrays a specific location, the “here” and “home” of Dunbar. Even so, it manages to reach beyond that one place and encourages the reader to reflect on what a sense of belonging entails. Life bursts out of it on every page.
From the outset, Colin Will succeeds in using the structure of seasons to convey both a sense of timelessness and a sense of change. From winter to winter, this pamphlet’s journey proves how nature and man contrast with their expiration dates, yet are alike in their frustrations and trivialities. The narration shows how the community of nature is more impressive and more beautiful when contrasted with human culture:
Fuel rods in transit
or waste to process,
this cargo holds heat enough
to melt a mountain.
Will runs the gauntlet of natural image, from “tracks on wintry mud” to “bright-faced flowers”. It is assured writing and the completeness of description is expert, though because the writing is ‘seasonal’, some moments lean too heavily on the description. In this sense, the pamphlet relies on completely immersing the reader in the scene rather than providing a doorway to glimpse it. This has been done before, but with Colin Will at the helm, there are interesting and original moments. A favourite of mine was ‘Held back’:
They triggered early, switched
by gene’s prediction of light-time.
No leeway for winter-grip,
this stiff white counterpane
on the barren beds of March.
I mentioned the community of nature but I have the feeling it’s community in general that the poet dissects. He is concerned with the roots of things and how they differ and change from season to season, yet also how both of these communities are rooted together. For example, in ‘Silly Season’, regarding hay fever:
were a tiny price to pay
for the spring of a lifetime.
Colin Will also achieves the feat of objectively editing/publishing his own book to produce something that feels and looks complete. I can’t say there is a single poem in this book that I will remember forever, but the book itself - the fullness of it - is memorable indeed.
As someone whose entire life has been spent in parts of the world which have been known to offer four seasons in one day, the promise of having the year’s six seasons explored through poetry naturally appeals to me.
Via the twenty-four poems neatly packed between the covers of this pamphlet, Colin Will takes us on a journey from Yuletide to Yuletide in and around Dunbar, where he has spent most of the twenty first century.
Along the way we viscerally encounter the journey from darkness to light and back again, the traverse from cold to sun roasted to cold again. The second poem, ‘Winterwalk’, opens beautifully –
Yearturn, past the max black,
before the heart of cold.
Anyone who has ever lived through a Scottish winter will know exactly where he is. But Colin’s journey is not a solitary one. As well as the friends who pop up frequently in the sequence to frame his six seasons, there is a star studded cast of otters, eiders, oystercatchers, as well as seed potatoes, “welcome strangers / – Herb Robert, poppies, mallow, toadflax – / not weeds, just bright-faced flowers.” In ‘Seasonal Adjustment’ as the cold returns, he encounters “a little puffling crouched, / miserable, peeping as I picked it up.”
The flora and fauna encountered are not just painted with beautiful sensitivity, they serve the depiction of the poet’s (and the hemisphere’s) journey through the year. Sites of special seasonal interest are also significant. Amisfield Walled Garden, The Old Man of Bilsdean, Edin’s Hall Broch and St Baldred’s Tower are all places I’ve never visited. Reading this pamphlet gave me not only an awareness of them, but a sense of what it’s like to be there, a keenly experienced and vividly portrayed personal engagement with place.
In the end, changing seasons, beautiful creatures and beautiful places don’t necessarily make for beautiful poetry. What makes the poetry in this collection beautiful is the personal and perceptive ways in which this changing background is seen and felt. It would be easy for a seasonal journey through most Scottish years to be a little bleak, but The Year’s six seasons leaves an overall impression of warmth – the warmth of the people and other creatures encountered on the way, and the warmth with which they are received by a sensitive and generous poet.