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Thursday, 24 May 2018


English Street
Damian Smyth

Templar Poetry 2018

(Please, whatever I say and whatever extracts I choose to highlight, please follow the links above and buy a copy of the book from Templar. £10. That's it, with a bit of p&p. Enjoy these words.) 

This collection of seventy poems demands concentration. The poems blend seemingly straightforward details and observations with layers of complexity and deep-thinking. The comprehensive notes section at the back is testament to thorough research into a wide range of subjects.

Many opening lines are subtle and not-so-subtle hooks into the bodies of the poems. You read and have little choice but to dig in.

Take these openers from The Big Wind In The Barony:

It’s all about simply describing what happens:
A wind so strong it blew the teeth off a saw…

Or these lines from The Woodgrange Parleys:

It was our John said it was hard to believe
That someone who couldn’t even get his words out
Could have so many opinions on so many things
He knew bugger all about.

Or these lines from The Home Front On Church Street:

After we’d lobbed the duck eggs,
Over the hedge, onto the oul fellas
At the War Memorial – sound effects
Of translucence popping, cries –
We took off over the fields.

You see what I mean. You have to read on. There’s no choice.

Two poems in particular struck a chord with me, a big fan of cowboy pictures. The Ballykinlar Visitors:

Matinees in the Grand: dime-a-dozen westerns
With ranches, tipis, holsters, reservations,
Tomahawks; rednecks with lariats, steers
And Stetsons, kids our age and nice wives….

And The Burial At Ornans: Courbet In Chapeltown which draws on and from the classic western, The Searchers.

But there is so much going in here with specific locations, historical episodes, tragedy, comedy and humanity. Most of us look at scenery and even our own neighbourhoods and not see much of interest. Damian Smyth has an eye for details that he weaves into tremendously powerful poetry. Lines and images linger.

I am away on holiday soon and this book will be a companion. I will use the peace and quiet to read the poems again, dig deep, absorb and reflect in the sun (hopefully) on a lounger. I have much to learn about writing but also about reading. This is both a challenging and enlightening collection, but it needs, nay deserves, as I said at the beginning, concentration.

As I read through, I will add occasional thoughts on some of the poems. The Old Course Identities is a very funny take on names and nicknames:

Which may explain why Shite-the-Sixpence's own mother
Called him Shite-the-Sixpence all her life so when he died
It was only his birth certificate vouched for the headstone:
'James Robert' it declares but no one knows who he was.

The Rathkeltair Primer is about what we know and don't know, what we learn and what we don't learn, what we can and can't be bothered to take in from the world around us:

I never learned the name of a single shrub
Or could tell one tree in the wood from another.

Going on to say:

And thought that fish were brown and white
Like bread and people and C&C lemonade.

(Cantrell & Cochrane lemonade, a popular brand back in the day.)

Congratulations too to Templar Poetry (check out via the web address above) for a beautifully produced volume

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