By Andrew Bailey
For another review project, I have been re-reading “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, that challenging, unique classic tome with its weird language and elaborate composition. Whilst not searching for any specific comparisons here, I realised quickly that Andrew Bailey’s debut poetry collection, “Zeal”, has one thing in common with Chaucer’s masterpiece – it requires concentration……and time.…..and re-reading, to understand and absorb the themes, the nuances, the observations and emotions therein. There is nothing throwaway in his fine collection of poems. It seems clear that every word and phrase has been chosen painstakingly and positioned in precisely the right place on the page for maximum effect. There is something very special going on in this volume. Not all poets are as meticulous as Andrew Bailey but it is right and proper to acknowledge his skill, his intelligent craftsmanship with language and his poetic powers. He leads us and we follow.
There is a lot of sand, water, rain, wind and other natural ingredients driving his poems. Love and sex make guest appearances too. The challenges and conflicts of nature interweave with personal feelings, hopes, regrets and doubts. “Quickening” is a strong opening poem: ‘Where surf fusses at the definitions/of sandy water, watery sand, a tethered boat/enjoys support from both./I promised once to sail,/one hand in sea one hand in sky,/for the point where they would meet/and I would learn some undefined/but Eleusinian thing. I learned/about how to be wet.’
The killer lines of some of the work stick with you. From “Chill”, ‘moon as faint as a misprint”; from “Dream”, “Dream is headfill”; from “Halloween, ‘a cobweb past noon’; from “Coastal”, ‘We will speak like sandpaper’; from “Aspire”, ‘each particle of sand aspires to pearl’. I know I’m teasing you here with scraps but back to my original point, the words and phrases are plotted and knitted together beautifully. The poetry, although cryptic at times, is sublime.
In my experience, if you have read a poetry book and remembered nothing, it wasn’t much of a book. But if you remembered something, the seed has been sown for you to return to the work again and again, or to urge you find out more about the poet. On reading “Zeal”, you will want more.
I urge you to buy this book and then to promise that you will respect it and it’s author by giving it your full concentration and a fair chunk of time. It will be well worth it and you will feel all the better for introducing yourself to a deep thinking but rather exciting new poet.