At the Well of Love, Tom Pow
Mariscat Press, 2016 £6.00
Poems that breathe
This is a most delicate and gentle of collections. One to be read quietly, I felt, with myself. These poems, populated by their cats and sparrows, have something very palpable – like a small pulse held in a palm – to teach us about fragility. They are poems that seem to me, themselves, to breathe.
‘As a boy, I held many small animals in my hands’, Tom Pow writes in ‘From: Ten Ghazals’ (‘Ghazal 8’) – and this shows. The work often crosses a delicately friable line between human and animal nature to potent effect. ‘Our deaf cat sleeps deeply / on the sofa beside me.’ Towards the end of this tender poem (‘Deaf Cat’) the narrative morphs seamlessly into the parallel analogy of our lives as humans.
There are lessons to be learned
from our deaf cat. Before the word,
there was touch; after, touch again
Birds – especially sparrows – are also prevalent, and ‘The War Against the Sparrows (1958)’ draws out wonderfully from that history the inevitable conclusion that we are all part of a greater whole: symbiotically linked, and dependent on, and mutually responsible for, the most vulnerable.
Humans can also appear, thanks to this micro-managed context, almost bird-like. Here’s le patron in number iii of ‘A Village Triptych:
Today is one of his unshaven days. He is small
and must reach over the bar to shake my hand.
This poem culminates with an expression of what the poet suggests is one of his own greatest life-skills and satisfactions – what he calls ‘taking and giving breath’ – something, he tells us, he has ‘learnt, over many years’. And this, I think, is precisely what he also achieves through these living, breathing poems:
[...] I can stand
with others and let them be alone too. But what
makes possible this solitary act is that all this time
I breathe with them and give them what breath