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THE SCALE OF THINGS:

Afric McGlinchey reviews Edward Denniston's newest poetry collection

 

 

 

 

 

afric mcglinchey

Afric McGlinchey’s début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, was published by Salmon in 2012 and evokes her upbringing in Africa. Her poems have been published in Southword, Moth, THE SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review, the Irish Times, Stinging Fly, Magma, Acumen and numerous other journals. A Pushcart nominee (2011), she was a guest reader at the Cork Spring Festival, Bluestacks, Benedict Kiely and Poetry Africa Festivals in 2013. She has been highly commended and shortlisted for several poetry prizes, including the Magma and Bridport.  She won the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award in 2011 and the Northern Liberties Prize (USA) in 2012. Afric lives in West Cork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the scale of things

The Scale of Things

Edward Denniston

(Salmon Poetry, 2013)

ISBN: 978-1-908836-59-5

€12 paperback

Buy from Salmon

 

 

 

 

In Edward Denniston’s aptly titled collection, an awareness of pulsing life is balanced against the inevitability of death. As one epigraph reads: “‘How fragile all this seems sometimes— contingent on so many things, or so few, it makes me dizzy.” (Kevin Smith).

There’s an echo of Robin Robertson’s collie and “rack of bones” (‘At Roane Head’) when walkers come upon the corpse of a border collie in a derelict Austin A40 in Denniston’s opening poem, ‘Descent’: “His rib cage held up / a sagging rain-washed coat: / black, dashes of white, lustrous, / beneath emaciated flesh, warm to touch.” The reaction of the onlookers is muted but effective: “Slowly, colour seeped from the landscape. // A fine mist dampened our few words.” This is a striking key poem, setting the tone for the walking, pastoral and death-related themes of the book.

While there are moments of syntactical awkwardness (such as in the first quote), for the most part, care is taken with line endings, internal rhyme and assonance, all of which contribute to the music. Denniston also pays homage to several of the poets he admires. Here’s one after Norman MacCaig (and there’s no getting away from the Heaney influence either):

            How strange it is to be that boy

            who topped and tailed haycocks;

            who hunkered down in the double ditch

            in McKeogh’s triangle field breathing

            the clammy, earthy smell of soil, docks,

            nettles, damp coats – waiting

                       

                                                ‘Townie in a Landscape’

And Denniston adds his own undertones of wry, emotive resonance to a poem after ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ by William Carlos Williams:

           

            In the balm of fine, tickly

 

            perpendicular rain, the wheelbarrow

            sober with efficacy, has no intention.

                                                ‘From a Window’

 

Stylistically, there is a tendency to overuse adjectives ending in “y”: "orangey", "gravelly", "crinkly", "purpley", "frothy", "flowery", "lacquery". But there’s a pleasing variation of stanza lengths and poem shapes. As Frost once wrote, “the line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight.” I enjoy Denniston’s meandering line lengths, such as here, in the closing lines of ‘Anniversary’:

            a reclining seat on which to lie, sit, talk or make love,

            where, now and then, others might come and vow

            impossible vows, with the promise of eight thousand nights or more.

 

George Szirtes once said that every collection needs a shard of ice. Denniston draws our attention to a still-divided, religion-controlled land and the edginess of conflict in ‘South of the Border’. Having recently visited Omagh’s memorial Garden of Light, the following image was particularly evocative for me: “he knew / unapproved roads like the back of his hand, / kept a mirror on a long stick in the boot of the car.”

 

It’s evident that Denniston also held onto a certain bitterness about his alcoholic father until the deaths of his parents. This undercurrent flows, like subterranean water, beneath his images, “hardened on a slope… only the odd bone, / chawed antagonism / picked clean….” (‘Deep Ecologist’). Yet, while there’s a caustic edge to these poems, there’s also restraint:

 

            If I could tell you now, I would:

            what you gave me

            as best you could

 

            has served me well –

            your neglect.

            Even now I miss it.  

                                    ‘Thanks’

 

The poems of emotional evocation, such as these, and also poems addressing a loved one or his children are where Denniston’s individuality emerges.

 

Although these poems focus predominantly on traditional, familiar images and themes, Denniston’s maturity and experience as a walker add a meditative quality and there’s a spaciousness and overall lightness to this collection, the feeling that all that walking has helped him to dispel his ghosts.

 

 

 

 

 

©2013 Afric McGlinchey

 

 

Author Links

 

Afric McGlinchey's homepage

Two poems in Poethead, A Poetry Blog

Reading at 'On the Nail' Literary Gathering (YouTube)

 

 

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