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Glean, Patrick James ErringtonBlack and orange cover with triangle shapes of orange yellow and red against the black.

Ignition Press, 2018  £5.00

Touching desolation

How do we dig down in our writing and touch desolation? For me, Patrick James Errington manages this. It’s a feat I admire and, from the start of the first poem, I am won. I find myself alone in a way I recognise. And am grateful to him for finding the words and courage to distil this:

If you look close, everything moves. But it’s not enough.
The party winds down around you, your ears humming
[...]
There’s a glass of water in front of you, ringing
the table, gathering all too quick the warmth from your palm.
(‘In the Event of Winter’)

The landscape of the book is Canadian, and that brings its own evocative desolation. But it is the lone voice of the poet straining against the dark that speaks to me so clearly: 

              But you’re alive
     and can’t help feeling

forgotten, somewhere in your body like a wreck in deep
   water.
(‘Inheritance’)

‘Half Measures’ is a poem about a man living on for ‘years now since she left, and even / still he sleeps on just half the bed.’ I find it evocative and sad:

For comfort, he remembers

seeing the great Dutch paintings – Dou, sometimes
Vermeer – the immeasurable lives made so nearly

bearable in the frame, slightness like a bird’s
body in a plastic bag.

Bleak desolation runs through the collection. And more. ‘Just to be alive to this world is an act of war’, he states in ‘Gleaning’. And the poems don’t shy away from the guts and blood of that ‘war’. The poem ‘Still Life with Approaching Crow’, for instance, is unrelenting in its depiction of someone driven through ‘three-or-so / hundred fields’ ‘frozen solid’, and abandoned.

By touching desolation – by letting himself write as it really feels – ironically, perhaps, his words (as here, in 'Gleaning') reach me. ‘You could manage, make / do, get by, and you can. But there’s a loss // for every light’.

Charlotte Gann