Poetry Monthly Press, 2005 - £4.00
I have divided feelings on the issue of ‘themed’ books of poetry. On the one hand, separating related poems into thematic clusters can enliven each group with a sense of common purpose, give a sense of the collection building towards a sum greater than its parts; on the other, the effect can seem divisive, with sections competing on strength and offering comparisons which in an undivided whole would not exist.
The last section of Gallery, ‘Landscapes – Town and Country’, is the most successful. Its language is bold, never afraid to leap out into space and sing:
we might see
a flash of luminous blue wing,
or the white shirt-front of a dipper
(‘Strid Wood in March’)
Two swifts flew in a mares’ tail sky.
You should have been there too.
(‘Wells Next the Sea’)
In every poem there is crisp and observant interaction with the natural environment, an assessment of our presence within it, and subtle play on the degrees to which we can stay part of nature while standing outside. In ‘Gateshead Resurgent’, for instance, the poet pitches this difficult question perfectly:
Among cranes and scaffolding
a pure white arc spanning the Tyne …
But when a ship comes through
powerful hinges tilt and it lifts
a double curve,
like a swan’s folded wings.
There is grace, power and complexity in this image. Yet in earlier sections, particularly the historical middle panel of the book, this taut language and construction is rarely apparent. Poems lie rather flat in characters’ voices, which themselves are not achieved enough to command the savour of real speech. It is a difficult conclusion to draw, but for me the final fifteen pages would work far better on their own, or at least salted throughout the remaining sections to heighten their overall impact.
James Roderick Burns
The Common Reader says of Gallery:
Of the four sections in this collection I liked ‘Portraits – Family and Friends’ best. It’s full of very personal descriptions and memories of people well loved by the writer. There’s great warmth and sensitivity in poems like ‘Her Hands’, ‘Pastry Cook’ and ‘Red Hair’. But it was the aptly titled ‘Tenderness’ which really touched my heart:
You have a gentle touch with living things.
I can’t pick up a mouse, a frog, a bird,
afraid of harming them. You scoop them up,
cradle them in your hands and lift them clear
of the cat’s predatory paw.
You also love the cat.
I share my life with someone exactly like that.