First Hare, Richie McCaffery

Mariscat Press, 2020    £6.00

A brilliant wrong-footing

I really like these meticulous, direct poems. And one thing I’m struck by is the surprises: just when I think I know where I am — because this poet’s excellent, in very few words, at conjuring scene and cast — he pulls the rug from under me, and reveals something unexpected, and deep.

Often a surprise occurs in a poem’s final twist. So ‘The fork’ shares an excellent succinct account of a reason not to attend a reunion — which runs in parallel with mulling this decision while carrying out a domestic chore. The ‘sharp-pronged Georgian cutlery fork / with a tapered deer antler handle’ that he’s using to clear a gutter becomes a satisfyingly rich image for the schoolboy with ‘promise’ who’s grown into the adult poet. But it’s the final step, about the deer, that brings for me something deeper and harder, more complicated and perhaps even truer:

                                                   the deer
that never expected to be whittled to a hilt.

The poem on the facing page, ‘Mac’, featuring the poet’s nephew, is equally beautiful and unexpected. I like it much more than I often do ‘family’ poems, precisely because its angle is one I’ve never seen before. Again it travels from setting a fascinating and coherent scene to an altogether more personal and revelatory conclusion — potentially, on a number of levels — and all within a beautifully-crafted ten-line poem.

Some of the surprises in these poems I find really moving, at least in part because of the poet’s openness. ‘Lighthouse’, for instance, is a still, quiet, nine-line poem that opens out into something, to me, extraordinary. ‘Circadian rhythms’ ends an (almost) adjective-free account of a seemingly unexceptional day with an expression of moving effusiveness.

And ‘Change please, please change’ ends so poignantly:

I pass a beggar and she says:
Change please, please change
and it’s like she’s imploring
all the world to be better.

Charlotte Gann