This debut collection feels very much like a prayer in praise of the natural world and the symbiosis between man and nature. Almost every poem is steeped in the language of the natural world and many make direct reference to religion.
From the opening poem ‘Leaf’, we are treated to natural images that feel both ancient and fresh :“each tree is an altar to time”, “every knot/guards a hushed cymbal of water”. However, this imagery is made more powerful through a pairing with aphorisms which give these poems even more weight, causing them to reverberate in the mind long after the last line:
“For even in the nighttime of life
it is worth living, just hold it.”
For many of the poems, I felt as if I was suspended in the gloaming – close to nature and a primordial language. In poems like ‘Barn Owls in Suffolk’ where we try to impose our language to describe the world around us “strange geometry/ of their faces funnelling the air” – it’s the use of the unexpected that keeps these poems weighted. The collection feels expository, which makes the exploratory and confessional ‘Dryad’ even more significant: “ keeping/ my secrets still in the folds of night.
“Dryad’ is an astonishing poem – haunting and otherworldly while also firmly rooted in place. There’s a stillness to these poems, a hushedness as if hearing them over the crackling of a fire – if a collection was a place, this would be in the bleak landscape as we are urged to come closer come closer and listen at the fire for the secrets.
‘Kyrie’ also stands out with its ‘mercy refrain’ and references to the haunting sound of a child crying meshed with the noise the speaker made when calling his mother to talk about the suicide of a loved one. It’s a very raw and powerful poem and perhaps central to the whole collection. This collection is about growing into manhood and ‘Kyrie’ seems the poem everything is weighted on. There’s also a fragility in the rawness of grief which is echoed in ‘Dryad’ and ‘Ilex’ which asks us to “witness how a fragile thing is raised”.
The journey into adulthood is a hesitant one, and there’s a sense of being lost in poems like ‘Moor’ and ‘Dormancy’ (a particularly beautiful poem about a morgue visit and the way experience grows in us like a seed “I sowed myself/ like a wych elm in a windless room.”) The entire collection is filled with revelations as the speaker looks to nature and religious ritual to guide himself through a difficult period. ‘Petition’ is about Lourdes – again filled with the sense of seeking solace, this is a Lourdes of nature, like a Catholic Epidaurus “I came here to see myself shattered and remade” “the moon/ has turned my skin to silver”.
As the collection and the speaker matures, we glimpse light at the end of the tunnel, culminating in the release in ‘Hacksjon’: “I love/to plunge through the black glass/ of the lake, to make it echo/ with my body”
This echo reverberates through the very last line of the last poem, ‘Wild Garlic’, as the collection ends on the beautiful “The world is dark/ but the wood is full of stars”. I’ve never had a tattoo, but I’ve been tempted to have this phrase inked somewhere. As a line, it perfectly encapsulates the collection – using nature in an fresh and inventive way to illuminate ancient but forgotten truths about mankind.